Title: Envisioning an Anarcho‐Pacifist Peace
Subtitle: A case for the convergence of anarchism and pacifism and an exploration of the Gandhian movement for a stateless society
Date: 2018
Source: Retrieved on 2nd July 2021 from ourarchive.otago.ac.nz
Notes: A thesis submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy. Published by the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS), University of Otago.




      The Issue: Global Violence and Anarcho-Pacifism as a Revolutionary Solution

      Exploring Anarcho-Pacifist Possibilities: The Contents and Scope of the Thesis

      Theoretical Contribution and Finding my Audience

      My Positioning

      Outline of Chapters

  PART ONE: Anarcho-Pacifist Theory

    Chapter One: An Anarcho-Pacifist Conceptualisation of Violence and Peace

      Conceptualising Violence

      Authority, Coercion and Power

      Defining an Anarcho-Pacifist Peace


    Chapter Two: From Pacifism to Anarchism and the Violence of the Capitalist-State

      Conceptualising the State

      The Direct Violence of the Capitalist-State

      Structural and Non-Lethal State Violence

        The Role of Capitalism in State Violence

        The Role of Racism and Sexism in State Violence

      Can there be a “Good State”?


    Chapter Three: From Anarchism to Pacifism and the Rejection of Revolutionary Violence

      An Act of Violence is an Act of Domination

      Excuses for Revolutionary Violence and Reasons to Dismiss Them

        Excuse One: Violence as Necessary

        Excuse Two: Violence as Inspiring and Virtuous

      The Root Assumption: The Means of Violence Can Reach the Desired End of Revolution

      Conceptualising an Anarcho-pacifist Nonviolence


  PART TWO: Anarcho-Pacifist Vision and Practice: An Exploration of the Sarvodaya Movement

    Chapter Four: Exploring Anarcho-Pacifist Theory Through Gandhi

      Approaches to the Study of Anarchism

      Anarchist Methodology: Conducting Anarchist Research via Interviews

      Specifics of Inclusion: Exploring Gandhian rather than Euro-Centric Visions

      The Interview Participants

      Challenges to this research


    Chapter Five: Gandhi, Sarvodaya and Nonviolent Experimentation

      The Mahatma, Vinoba and JP

      The Sarvodaya Movement

      Critiques of the Sarvodaya Movement

      Key Gandhian Concepts


    Chapter Six: The Sarvodaya Movement’s Stateless Society: Gram Swaraj and the Constructive Programme

      Situating the Gandhian Plan

      Economics, Production and Work

      Political organisation

      Village Education

      The Ashram


      The Uplift of People


    Chapter Seven: Reflections from Interviews 1 — Engagement with Others as the Basis of Political Action

      Truthful Engagement with Others: The Gandhian, Marxist and Anarchist approaches

        Truthful Engagement in Theory

        Truthful Engagement in Gandhi’s Action

      Truthful Engagement 101

      Anti-Authoritarian Leadership

        Is an Anarchist Leader an Oxymoron?

        Following the Leader

      Engaging with Marxists


    Chapter Eight: Reflections from Interviews 2 — Nonviolent Political Structures and Organisation Today

      Is Gandhi’s Thought Relevant for Thinking About Political Organisation Today?

      Gandhi’s Village in Modern Times

      Thinking about Village Technology Today

      Engagement with Modern Civilisation’s Organisational and Political Structures: Political parties and Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)

      Uplift Today: Women and Dalits in the Gandhian Struggle


  PART THREE: Conclusions

    Chapter Nine: Conclusions

      Lessons from the Sarvodaya Movement

        A Three-Pronged Approach to Change


        A Unique Form of Leadership

      How Anarcho-Pacifism Challenges Anarchism and Peace and Conflict Studies

      Contributions of this Research and Future Research

    Reference List

    Glossary of Non-English Terms


    Appendix One: Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action





      Symbolic Strikes



    Appendix Two: Gandhi’s 11 Vows and the Activities of the Satyagraha Ashram


      Non-violence or Love

      Chastity (Brahmacharya)

      Control of the Palate


      Non-possession or Poverty

      Physical Labour



      Removal of Untouchability




      Sanitary Service

    Sacrificial Spinning




      National Education

        Explanation : Languages other than Gujarati may be taught by direct method.

      Khadi Technical School

    Appendix Three: Interview Participant Biographies


The primary aim of peace and conflict studies is to build a world that is free from the suffering that results from violence in all of its forms. No political theories pursue this more than pacifism and anarchism: pacifism through its rejection of physical violence as a tool of politics and anarchism through its staunch opposition to the structural and direct violence that results from violent forms of authority. This thesis is an attempt to explore the rejection of violence and the building of a nonviolent world through the lens of anarcho-pacifism, which is the amalgamation of both anarchism and pacifism. The purpose of this is to answer the question of how we can create nonviolent societies that enable human flourishing. This is done in two stages.

In the first part of this thesis, an argument is made for the joining of anarchism and pacifism. Put simply, this argument is that because pacifists oppose violence as a method of politics, they should therefore reject the state, as the state is rooted in violence. This means that pacifists should adopt anarchism as an ideology and a practice. On the other side, anarchism can be defined through its opposition to domination and violent authority, and on this basis it rejects the state, capitalism, patriarchy and racism, along with any other past, present or future forms of privileging and violent hierarchical structures. The argument is made that if anarchism opposes domination, it should reject physical violence and killing, the ultimate form of domination, as a tool of politics and social transformation. In this way, both pacifism and anarchism come together in synergistic ways. Therefore, anarcho-pacifism is presented as a unique and revolutionary theory that fully rejects all forms of violence as a means and an end in its pursuit of a peaceful world. As a result, there is a theoretical case made that anarcho-pacifism offers great potential to build a nonviolent world.

The second part of this thesis is a preliminary exploration into how anarcho-pacifism can be practiced in the real world. This is explored through the Gandhian movement, both in Gandhi’s lifetime but also in the sarvodaya movement. The sarvodaya movement is the movement focused on achieving Gandhian ideals, during Gandhi’s lifetime and after his assassination. It was chosen for exploration as it was deemed to be the largest, most sustained, and most successful example of anarcho-pacifism in practice. Multiple academic contributions are made here. The first is that Gandhi’s anarchistic theory is explored, as well as his similarities and differences with anarchism, which has its roots in Europe. Second, the sarvodaya plan for a nonviolent anarchistic society is outlined using the writings of Gandhi and his principal successor, Vinoba Bhave. Third, the views and reflections of contemporary followers of Gandhi are shared, via in-depth interviews that were conducted in India and the United States. This research is therefore also an attempt to desubjugate Gandhi’s anti-state theory and practice, and highlight the thought and achievement of his successors – Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan – who are rarely acknowledged in nonviolence, anarchist and peace and conflict studies literature. In the final part of the thesis, some conclusions are offered about the Gandhian experience and what it can offer to similar movements in the future. Finally I discuss some challenges that anarcho-pacifism presents to peace and conflict studies.

Keywords: Anarchism, Pacifism, Anarcho-Pacifism, Gandhi, Sarvodaya, Nonviolence


As I think everybody who has ever written a PhD thesis can testify, the PhD journey would be impossible without the support and input of a long list of people. I would like to acknowledge them in the next two pages, although I do not feel that my words can fully express my gratitude.

I owe a great deal of thanks to my primary supervisor, Professor Richard Jackson. He has guided me through this project over the last few years by offering encouragement, reading many drafts, and helping me improve the work I have done via his feedback. Not only that, but if it was not for his teaching and the many conversations we had in the two years preceding this PhD project, I probably would not have started it at all. He has also offered his full support to various academic and activist projects that I have pursued throughout my time at the National Centre for Peace and Conflicts Studies (NCPACS). For all of this, I am extremely grateful.

I am also very thankful to my other supervisors: Dr. Charles Butcher, Dr. Marcelle Dawson and Dr. SungYong Lee. Charles gave me important feedback in the early stage of this project. Also, if it were not for the time, feedback and encouragement he offered as the supervisor for my Post-graduate Diploma and MA theses in the years preceding this PhD, I would not have built the foundations to do this work. Marcelle and SungYong have both given me very valuable supervision in the later half of this project. They have provided extremely helpful comments that assisted me in honing and clarifying many aspects of this work and provided helpful feedback on my teaching as well.

Throughout my post-graduate study I have been very lucky to be at NCPACS. Two NCPACS members who I must mention here by name are Griffin and Jonathan, whom I have spent most of my daylight hours over the last three years sitting next to in our office. Thank you both for providing relief when it was needed, chatting about work, providing feedback, collaborating on multiple projects and papers, listening to me complain, for offering reflections, and over all for just being great friends. I am very thankful to many members of the NCPACS community who have come and gone during my time here who have made NCPACS such as great place to be. There are many others who have been integral to the development of my work and I am unfortunately unable to mention all of them here by name.

Of course, without the time, generosity and hospitality of the tremendously inspiring activists, anarchists, pacifists and Gandhians, in Aotearoa New Zealand, the USA and India, this thesis would not have been possible. I am very grateful to all of them and I hope that in time we will create the nonviolent world that we seek.

I am thankful for the words of advice of my teachers and guides, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Ven. Lhagon Rinpoche, whose guidance has kept me on track and which I aspire to completely live up to. I also need to thank the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre, who gave me a room to live in throughout most of this process, and which felt like a supportive nest to retreat to. The Dhargyey Buddhist Centre has also always offered support for the various peace projects I have kicked off or been involved in during my time studying at NCPACS.

Last but certainly not least, I want to thank all of my family and my wonderful partner, Nicole. Without years of support, sacrifices, presence and encouragement throughout life’s many ups and downs from my Mum and Han, I would not have reached this point. Nicole, who I met within three weeks of starting this project, has been my rock throughout. I am extremely grateful to have her in my life.

It is through the kindness of all of these people that I was able to reach this stage and enjoy the journey along the way. To quote the late Geshe Jampa Tegchok: “if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them.”


The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?

– Dorothy Day (1963, p. 210)

About seven years ago, I took a tuk-tuk[1] from the centre of Phnom Penh and travelled about 15 kilometres to the Choeung Ek killing fields. The remains of almost 9000 bodies have been excavated from mass graves on the site with many graves left untouched. Many of those killed at Choeung Ek were previously tortured in Phnom Penh’s notorious S-21 prison. In Cambodia, about 1.7 million people, one fifth of the population, were killed by the Khmer Rouge (Kiernan, 2003). They killed all who opposed them and many connected to those who opposed them, in order to try and prevent retaliation and to maximize their control. Alongside this, the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero social engineering campaign starved 300,000 people to death in a resultant famine (Hauveline, 2001).

When you walk around Choeung Ek, there are multiple scenes that become etched into your memory. There is a tree, as the sign next to it states, “against which executioners beat children”. Bullets were considered too precious to use, so the executioners had to find other ways of murdering their victims. Another tree, called the “magic tree”, had a loudspeaker hanging in it, which was used to drown-out the sounds of death. There are many hollows in the ground where the mass graves are. From these hollows, fragments of bone, teeth and clothing still rise out of the ground and are collected and put into see-through containers around the site. In the centre of the site is a large stupa[2] with big glass windows. Through the glass you can see 5000 skulls of victims piled from the floor to the ceiling, many with visible signs of trauma.

I walked around Choeung Ek for about an hour, before sitting down and looking at the stupa for a while, with a deep sinking feeling inside, as if I had been kicked in the chest and my chest was now hollow. While many years have passed since the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, the cracked skulls held within the stupa offer a glimpse of what physical violence is, of its nature. Physical violence is about inflicting suffering and pain. It is about destruction and injury. It is horrific. When you are presented with the skulls, clothes, teeth, and bloodstained trees, violence can no longer be abstracted, or discussed as if it is simply a neutral political tool.

As I sat looking at the stupa, I had an opportunity to think more about the gut-wrenching response I was feeling to what was in front of me. I realised that the violence that had been committed where I sat was not just about the act of killing, murder by evil individuals. It was an extreme example of the violence that can be committed by a so-called revolutionary group in the name of change. It is also an extreme example of the violence that can be committed, and arguably would not be possible, without a state. The Khmer Rouge represents a total bastardisation of what communism is meant to be; however, it also represents the logical end point of revolutionary violence, which aims to remove all challengers to reach its desired ends. The Khmer Rouge also demonstrates the violent potential of a state with a monopoly on, and a huge capacity for, violence, without which atrocities such as the Cambodian genocide would not be able to occur.[3]

While looking at the stupa, I made a strong reaffirmation of the pacifist commitments I had already made, and a strong commitment to do what I can, where I am, to prevent violence and work for the removal of violence in all of its forms. After getting up and leaving the killing field, I passed a person who was selling tied string bracelets on the side of the road. I brought the bracelet with a peace symbol in the middle of it and tied it to my wrist as a symbol of my reaffirmed commitment. It remained there for a number of years before the string broke. It is from this moment that I started to make changes, which, along with some additional life alterations, led to me signing up to a post-graduate peace and conflict studies course, and ultimately, two qualifications later, to writing this thesis.

Walking around Choeung Ek was a defining moment for me, because although I was already an activist, and already committed to nonviolence, I made a big step away from the communism, Trotskyism and Leninism that I had been drawn to as a teenager. I had been drawn to it because of its vision of a nonviolent world, but had, I now think naïvely, assumed that nonviolence could be integrated into Marxism. Maybe it can, but currently Marxists do not speak much of nonviolent resistance or the inherently violent nature of the state. I had been involved in Marxist groups, but this experience gave me the push I needed to step away from my attempts to reconcile my pacifist commitment with Marxism, and towards other traditions that were both radical and truly nonviolent. Here, I leaped away from Marx, Che, and Lenin and started to explore more deeply nonviolent radical traditions such as anarcho-pacifism, and Gandhianism.

On top of the Choeung Ek stupa, above the 5000 skulls, are figures of the Garuda and the Naga, two mythical animals, the first a bird and the second a snake. The two are natural enemies, trapped in a cycle of violence. On the top of the stupa, they hold each other up as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, as a representation of flourishing rather than suffering, and in this context, a symbol of moving away from the horrific violence of genocide to a place where this horror cannot happen again.

This leads me to the premise of this thesis. How can violence be stopped, allowing the Garuda and Naga to come together, breaking the cycle of violence and abolishing the means of violence? How can a truly nonviolent society be created? My conclusion, which I aim to substantiate and explore throughout this thesis, is that nonviolence cannot be created through the horror of violence. While revolutionary social transformation may be necessary, it cannot happen with the logic and action of revolutionary violence. It also cannot happen while there are political institutions, namely, the state, defined by a monopoly on violence, that along with a violent economic system, namely, capitalism, maintain and enact many other forms of violence upon people. It is from these thoughts that I aim to explore anarcho-pacifism and along with it, the interconnected but also unique theory and practice of Gandhian nonviolence. This is because they both reject direct violence, including killing, and they reject violent political and economic institutions. At the same time, they may offer insights into an alternative way of being and an alternative way of getting there. I am interested both in their theory and how they can be practised in order to create nonviolent societies.

The Issue: Global Violence and Anarcho-Pacifism as a Revolutionary Solution

The last one hundred years have seen many moments of optimism for those who want to create a nonviolent world. Many of these moments have either been caused, or greatly influenced, by popular peoples’ movements. For example, we have seen the end of direct colonial rule around the world as popular movements have challenged and removed rulers and colonisers. This included Gandhi’s demonstration of mass revolutionary nonviolence, which has been used many times since in various ways. The civil rights movement and anti-apartheid struggles played a large role in reducing the violence of racism. We have seen the rise of feminism and women’s movements that have challenged patriarchy. We have seen a rise in universal suffrage. Peace movements around the world have challenged war and contributed to an increased cynicism of war. Many countries, as the result of popular workers’ movements, increased the support that they offered to their citizens as governments were forced to take some responsibility for welfare and the regulation of working conditions. We have also seen the breaking of symbols of authoritarianism such as the Berlin Wall, and the consideration of human rights has become more mainstream.

Unfortunately, despite these moments of optimism, it is clear that we do not yet experience a nonviolent world. Many forms of violence that have been opposed by progressive movements have largely remained intact. Specifically, I refer to: the perpetuation of war, its consequences, and its ever-increasing lethal possibilities; an economic system – capitalism – that is based on exploitation, oppression, and dispossession; systems of political power – states – that rely on top-down control; and pervasive bigotry in the forms of patriarchy, racism and disablism. This is not to say that the nature of these systems of violence has not changed, but rather that they are still being perpetuated. At this current moment, little seems to stand in their way as the political left, globally, seems small, reactive, and largely uncreative. Much of its time is spent in opposition mode rather than on creating new ways of being and a positive vision of the future. Writing in 2018, one hundred and one years on from the Bolshevik revolution, and 154 years since the formation of the First International, radical popular movements have not made the changes they yearned for. We have seen communist hopes of equality turn into the Soviet Union, the gulags, civil wars, invasions, authoritarianism and Mao’s great leap forward. Other revolutions faded as they could not maintain or protect themselves, such as the anarchist revolutions in Catalonia and the Free Territory of Ukraine (Orwell, 1970 [1938]; Peirats, 1990; Skirda, 2004).[4] There are many other progressive movements that have not achieved a social revolution at all.

While leftist revolutionary movements have not been able to achieve their goals, another proposed road to peace, the liberal-democratic project, has arguably failed. The optimism about the liberal democratic project that was present at the fall of the USSR and heading into the millennium has now all but faded with a resurfacing of racist, rightist sentiments in the heart of liberal-democracies. The war on terror, the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, and the increased power of populist right-wing parties in Europe, as well as popular movements such as the alt-right, are all examples of this. In addition, neoliberal economic reforms promoted by liberal democracies have only resulted in increased global and national inequalities, and the world’s leadership seems utterly unable and/or unwilling to solve pressing world problems such as those caused by the looming and increasingly current threat of climate change.

It is here, in a lull of leftist creativity and thought, and in an atmosphere of increasing pessimism about the possibility of a peaceful world that I start this thesis, and ask: how do we create a nonviolent society that facilitates human flourishing? And what kind of politics is able to take us further than other popular movements have so far? More specifically, what approach could take us beyond a politics that rests on violent authority and division, to one of bottom-up democracy? What approach could take us beyond an economic system based on exploitation, dispossession and oppression, to one based on the needs of the earth and its inhabitants? What approach could take us beyond division and bigotry to a politics of nonviolence that entails an ethics of uplift, care and support rather than division and contempt?

Peace studies, at least in recent years, has largely avoided these big questions. Discussions about the creation of positive peace, the absence of all violence, and the obliteration of structural and cultural violence have all but disappeared in the top peace studies journals (Gleditsch, Nordkvelle, Strand, Buhaug and Levy, 2014), as has a radical imagining of what could be. Most research and practice is focused on the creation of negative peace, the absence of war, and limiting physical violence. While it is undoubtedly beneficial to limit war, this narrow focus is not capable of creating a positive peace — a nonviolent politics and nonviolent economics that would allow people and the planet to thrive.

The aim of this thesis is to explore an often-overlooked theory and method of peace making and explore its practice and potential solutions to global violence. Anarcho-pacifism, an amalgamation of both anarchism and pacifism, is a world-view that is committed to nonviolent revolution. It involves a specific critique of politics, authority and hierarchy and a belief that nonviolent societies can be created and maintained. I will argue that anarchism and pacifism are theories that contain the potential to overcome some of our world problems and create a positive peace, especially when they are practiced together as anarcho-pacifism.

The word anarchy is traced by Proudhon, an early anarchist thinker, to the ancient Greek a narkhos – meaning without government – not chaos as the word is commonly assumed to mean. Anarchism is a philosophical position that questions authority and rejects and resists it if it cannot justify itself (Chomsky, 2013). I will suggest that it is a political position that rejects all violent authority – authority that leads to domination and/or exploitation. Pacifism, often mistaken for passivism, is “…the view that war, by its very nature, is wrong and that humans should work for peaceful resolution of conflict” (Cady, 2010, p. 17). Pacifists reject passivity and work for peace. Another key component of pacifism is a “commitment to cooperative social order based on agreement” (Cady, 2010, p. 30), a position held in common with anarchism. It is fair to say that pacifism has in the past been acknowledged in peace studies, and there is currently increasing support for the exploration of nonviolent civil resistance as a means of change for downtrodden peoples. However, anarchism has rarely, if ever, been explored in the field. The closest it may have come is through the study of Mahatma Gandhi in the early days of the discipline, but these are brief, distant discussions that focused mainly on Gandhi’s nonviolent use of force, rather than his vision of a nonviolent society that would have been anarchistic in nature. Of course, anarcho-pacifism is by no means the only theory that aims for the creation of a peace that rejects the capitalist-state. Others have asked similar questions and come up with their own answers. Most of these are in either the Marxist traditions or broader anarchist traditions. Many of them will be referred to in this thesis.

Exploring Anarcho-Pacifist Possibilities: The Contents and Scope of the Thesis

This thesis is split into three parts. The first makes a theoretical argument for anarcho-pacifism. I argue that peace scholars and revolutionaries should engage with and investigate anarcho-pacifism, as there is reason to believe that it could have a unique potential to help create nonviolent societies. This is because, unlike other methods of social change, it fully rejects violence — physical, structural and cultural — as a means and an ends, thus opening the possibility for a nonviolent world. As a key part of this, I challenge the use of violence as a tool of change, and make an argument for the rejection of violent forms of authority: authority that leads to oppression and/or exploitation. This leads me to conduct a major critique of the violence of the capitalist-state. From an anarchist perspective, the capitalist-state could be seen as the biggest instigator of violence in the world. It is the most dominant system of power and control.

In this thesis, I will argue that anarchism and pacifism naturally fit together. In summary, I will make this argument through justifying the following sub-arguments. Pacifists oppose violence as a method of politics, and should therefore reject the state, as the state is rooted in violence (as I discuss in Chapter Two). This means that pacifists should adopt anarchism. On the other side, anarchism can be defined by its opposition to domination, and from this it rejects the state, capitalism, patriarchy and racism, along with any other past, present or future form of privileging and violent hierarchical structure. If anarchism opposes domination, it should reject physical violence and killing, the ultimate form of domination, as a tool of politics and social transformation (as will be discussed in chapter three). The anarcho-pacifist position can be summarised in three key points, which set it apart from other leftist thought and peace-making theories:

  1. The rejection of violent authority. The existence of violent authority represents the antithesis of peace because it necessitates structural and cultural violence. Importantly, this anarchist stance against violent authority leads to the rejection of our capitalist-state dominated world system as peaceful and also rejects the capitalist-state as a means to peace.

  2. The rejection of physical violence. This is a pacifist rejection of physical violence as a means of change that can lead to peace. Combined with the anarchist stance of point one, this means that anarcho-pacifism supports revolutionary rather than reformist methods of change, but rejects violence as a means of revolution. To go one step further, it sees violence as inherently counter-revolutionary because it reinforces existing structures and modes of power.

  3. The promotion and creation of ways of being that allow people to live without violence. This is both an anarchist and pacifist stance that seeks to create ways of living and organising that are nonviolent, and foster and encourage ways of living and organising that are already nonviolent. This allows people to learn how to meet their needs in a way that is conducive to peace, and for us to reconstitute ourselves into existing and thinking in peaceful ways.

The second part of this thesis is an exploratory study of anarcho-pacifism. More specifically, it is an exploration of anarcho-pacifist politics and action by looking to Gandhi and the Gandhian Sarvodaya movement in India. This may seem like a strange place to explore anarcho-pacifism, at least to people who are unfamiliar with Gandhi’s anarchistic practices. However, Gandhi is looked to as the case for exploration for two reasons that will be justified more through the thesis. The first is that Gandhian nonviolence fulfils the three summary points presented above, which define anarcho-pacifism. For all intents and purposes, Gandhian political and economic thinking fits neatly within the definition of anarcho-pacifism that I have given because it is committed to nonviolence, recognises means/ends consistently, rejects violent authority including the state, aims to create bottom-up democracy, and seeks to develop an economic model that is based on the needs of all sentient beings and the planet, and is therefore opposed to capitalism. The second reason is that the Gandhian movement, during Gandhi’s lifetime and after his death, is by far the largest movement that has fulfilled these three points, at least in recent history. This is true in regard to the size and the impact of the scale of the nonviolent resistance that the movement was engaged in, but also in regard to the scale of their experiments in living nonviolently and their expansive theory of how this can be done. Other anarcho-pacifist traditions have not existed on the same scale. Considering this led me to the conclusion that the exploration of the Gandhians would offer more insights and examples into how anarcho-pacifist principles can be practiced on a large scale than the study of any other movement could.

The broad purpose of exploring the Gandhian movement is to start to explore visions of anarcho-pacifism, by researching the knowledge, experiences, and views of different generations of activists who have followed this path. The key way in which the Gandhian movement is explored in this research is through interviews with people who are following in Gandhi’s footsteps, in the modern day. This is assisted and preceded by an outline of the Gandhian plan for the nonviolent society, using key texts. I created a summary of this plan by referring to key writings of Gandhi and one of his principal followers, Vinoba Bhave.

Initially, the vision for this thesis was to explore manifestations of anarcho-pacifist practice over the two traditions, the Gandhian and the European. As a result, I had conducted interviews with twenty-five activists/proponents of nonviolence based in the USA, India and Aotearoa New Zealand. All rejected violence as a means and an end and held an anarchist, or at least, an anarchistic, worldview. In other words, they seek to create change and achieve justice through nonviolence, and reject violent authority; instead, they seek human freedom, which entails the creation of a decentralised and non-hierarchical society. While all interviews offered valuable insights into how anarcho-pacifism can be lived, I could not do justice to them by putting them all within the confines of this thesis, and, for the reason explained, I have put the anarcho-pacifist interviews to one side to use in future work.

The anarcho-pacifist tradition coming out of Europe is the only one of the two to explicitly label itself anarcho-pacifist, with its members sitting within the European anarchist and pacifist traditions.[5] In the USA, for example, there are multiple traditions of anarcho-pacifism that have been practiced and developed by the likes of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers movement, by Quakers, students, and members of the Movement for a New Society (MNS), the Ploughshares movement founded by Daniel and Phil Berrigan, by a range of anarchist collectives, by people like Paul Goodman, and by some members of the Beat Generation, and of course, in the anti-war movements with some members of groups like the War Resisters League being anarcho-pacifists. Other significant groups, historically, have been the Tolstoyan Communes that were set up around the world, along with other Christian influenced communities that held similar principles (Alston, 2014).

The second movement — the thought, philosophy and practice of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers — does not use the term anarcho-pacifist. It is focused on the creation of a society based on sarvodaya, meaning the welfare of all. The first half of the thesis is framed in the language of anarcho-pacifism which differs from the language of Gandhi; Gandhi and his followers have many of the same conclusions about the problems of the world and what is needed to fix them. I am not the first to make the direct link between Gandhi and Anarchism (see Ostergaard, 1985; Ostergaard and Currell, 1971; Doctor, 1964; Woodcock, 1972; Kumar, 2004, p. 377). However, I do not want to simply label Gandhi as an anarcho-pacifist. I will briefly address the reason for this now, in this introduction, and more substantively in the fourth chapter of this thesis.

While the European Anarchist and Gandhian traditions of nonviolence are distinct, they also share strong connections. Gandhi and his followers were a huge influence on anarcho-pacifists in Europe and the USA (Ostergaard, 1982), especially as Gandhi showed the world how nonviolence can be wielded on a large scale. It is harder to say that the influence is as great the other way around, although Gandhi was influenced and moved by the writing of well-known anarchists such as Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau. Gandhi also read two of the most prolific anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist thinkers, Kropotkin and Bakunin (Dalton, 1993, p. 21; Woodcock, 1972). Tolstoy and Thoreau were also read by some of his followers, along with the likes of Kropotkin.[6] He also corresponded with Dutch anarcho-pacifist, Bart de Ligt.

Despite this, it is my view that it would be a disservice to Gandhi to subsume him under a Euro-centric anarcho-pacifist label. While Gandhi was influenced by anarchists, his philosophy of nonviolence and visions of a nonviolent society are indigenous to, and firmly rooted within, India (Shah, 2009). Gandhi did not, while he was alive or now, need to look to a European theory for solutions to violence that has been instilled in Indian society or for the emancipation of Indians living under colonial rule. These issues will be discussed in detail later in the thesis, but I mention them briefly here just for the purpose of accurately framing my argument from the outset, and to explain the exploration of the Gandhians in this research.

It is important to note, as I have now made clear, that I do not aim to write about anarcho-pacifism as if it exists as one stream of homogenous thought, with one set of practices and solutions. It is a world-view held by different groups and people that inspires different solutions within different contexts, spaces and times. It can be seen as a set of root principles on how violence exists and how nonviolence can be used and experienced in order to remove violence. It follows then, that there could be many different anarcho-pacifisms. Indeed, Gandhi and many others fit comfortably under a broad anarcho-pacifist umbrella, recognised for their various conclusions and experiments that aim to do away with physical, structural and cultural violence as a means and an end.

In summary, in the first part of this thesis, I make an argument for anarcho-pacifism — for a nonviolent politics that rejects physical violence, violent authority, and searches for nonviolent ways of being. In the second part, I point to and explore the sarvodaya movement, which aimed to implement anarcho-pacifist principles. The argument I present in this thesis and the conclusions I make should not be seen as definitive of anarcho-pacifism. Others justify their anarcho-pacifism in different ways and enact it in different ways to the Gandhians. The Gandhians, while enacting an anarchist or anarchistic pacifism, do not explain their position in the same way that I champion anarcho-pacifist nonviolence and politics, despite the two being consistent with each other.

Although I pose this as an exploratory study of anarcho-pacifist practice, I am not conducting a study of all who fit under the anarcho-pacifist umbrella. In this sense, I am very limited in the comments I can make about the representative nature of my findings. The reason I initially conducted interviews in the three selected countries, the USA, India, and Aotearoa New Zealand, was because all have unique traditions of anarcho-pacifism that have developed in relative isolation, with different challenges.

The final part of the thesis summarises the Gandhian approach and puts the discussion of anarcho-pacifism, along with the Gandhian practice and insights, into direct conversation with peace and conflict studies theory and practice. Here, I will finish the thesis by outlining ways in which anarcho-pacifism speaks to the problem that peace studies is concerned with: the creation of a nonviolent world. I finish the thesis by concluding that anarcho-pacifist politics are not unrealistic, but can be liveable and usable. They require us to experiment in new ways of being rather than offering a complete prescription of a nonviolent society. I will argue that there are multiple areas of peace and conflict studies research that share common ground with anarcho-pacifist politics, and these can be built upon in the future.

Theoretical Contribution and Finding my Audience

I think that it is important to state outright that I have found this a difficult task. The key reason for this is that I have found it difficult to speak to or even find my audience/s. This is because this research bridges disciplines, rather than fitting solidly under one. The fields I am bridging are: first, peace and conflict studies, and within this, the study of pacifism and nonviolence; second, anarchism and anarchist studies; and third, Gandhian studies. The subject matter speaks primarily to anarchism and pacifism, drawing on Gandhi. An articulation of anarcho-pacifism is rare in both peace studies and anarchism, and this is the key research gap that I am trying to fill. Within peace studies there is an increasing body of work that looks at mass nonviolence, but little on anarcho-pacifist communities and individuals.

The theoretical contributions I have sought to make in this thesis are: to define anarcho-pacifism and its theoretical foundations; to outline the violence of the capitalist-state, which peace studies and pacifism pays little attention to; to question the method of violent revolution, which has been accepted by large strands of anarchist theory as a necessary or productive way to create nonviolent societies; and to explore the Gandhian sarvodaya movements experience of trying to enact anarcho-pacifist politics. The task of finding my audience is made even more problematic, as different parts of this research speak more strongly to some fields than others. For example, discussions about structural violence and the violence of the capitalist-state (see Chapter Two) speaks to peace and conflict studies and pacifism much more than it does to anarchist studies. Anarchism already rejects these things, whereas peace studies rarely recognises the capitalist-state as an impediment to peace. On the other hand, discussions about violence being an unproductive method for creating revolutionary change (see Chapter Three) challenges much anarchist thought, but does not strongly challenge peace and conflict studies, which, as a whole, views nonviolence as a more effective way of creating change compared to violence.

These issues have made it difficult to get the balance right as I make my arguments, and throughout the process I have received contradictory feedback on how best to do this as I have presented my work. I will share two sets of examples to illustrate this. First, many comments I received early on in my PhD journey were contradictory in regards to my discussion of the violence of the capitalist-state. On one side, I was told that I needed to spend a lot of time justifying the position that capitalism is violent, because this was not obvious. On the other side, I had multiple people advise me that that I did not need to spend much time talking about structural violence and the violence of capitalism, because this was quite obvious. Another piece of advice that stuck in my mind was that I should not use the word anarchism in my work, as peace and conflict scholars would not pay attention to it. To follow this advice, of course, would undermine the premise of this research.

Trying to talk to multiple positions and fields of study has been challenging, so I sincerely hope that I have struck the correct balance, while acknowledging the fact that some people who may read this will want more or less justification for different sections of this research. At times, this project has felt like an overly ambitious task to do within the confines of one thesis. However, a piece of advice I received earlier on in my journey was that it is better to take a difficult swing at a harder question, than an easy swing at a less interesting or challenging one. I have tried to follow this advice.

My main contribution leads to a sub-set of contributions, which are especially relevant to the second part of the thesis. The first is highlighting the anarchistic vision of Gandhi, which is largely ignored or has not been looked at by many pacifists and peace scholars. Moreover, I discusses the Gandhian movement post-Gandhi, which has rarely been done within peace studies, and thereby aiming to bring peace and conflict studies up to date in regards to Gandhi. Gandhi was integral to the early work of many important figures in the field, such as Johan Galtung (Galtung and Næss, 1955; Weber, 2004) and Gene Sharp (1961), but his contemporary relevance and practice is not currently explored. Second, work on pacifism has been quite Eurocentric. It makes reference to Gandhi, but has not evolved or developed Gandhi’s anarchistic approach. Finally, I show that Gandhi has relevance to Anarchism. Despite the Gandhian movement being one of the largest and longest running examples of anarchistic action, it has been largely ignored by Western Anarchists, with Geoffrey Ostergaard’s work being the notable exception (Ostergaard, 1985; Ostergaard and Currell, 1971).

As these contributions show, this research offers more to peace studies and anarchist studies, than it does to Gandhian studies. This thesis presents a case for anarcho-pacifism, with reference to, and exploration of, the Gandhian movement. In this way, I engage with anarchism and pacifism, and look to the Gandhian approach to explore a lived experience of enacting the theory I am presenting. I offer very little to Gandhian literature which already deals with Gandhi’s anarchistic vision, except for pointing to the fact that there is another set of movements, those that are called or have called themselves anarcho-pacifist, that share major similarities. While saying this, as I will expand on in multiple places throughout the thesis, much Western work on Gandhi does not explore his anarchistic ideals.

To assist with explaining where I see this research fitting, I have included the diagram below (Figure 1). This research on anarcho-pacifism is positioned between three fields of study: peace and conflict studies, anarchism and Gandhi. The blue part of the diagram represents the first half of the thesis, as I make arguments for anarchism to become pacifist, for pacifism to become anarchist, and for the two to come together as anarcho-pacifism in order to create peace. The second half, represented by the orange part of this diagram, shows the exploration of how anarcho-pacifist theory can be lived by looking to the Gandhian movment, which then offers lessons back to peace and conflict studies, anarchism, and together as anarcho-pacifism.

[[j-l-joseph-llewellyn-envisioning-an-anarcho-pacifi-1.png f][Figure 1- The Positioning of this Research Between Three Fields of Study and the Exploration of the Gandhian Movement to demonstrate to both Peace and Conflict Studies and Anarchism how Anarcho-Pacifism can be Enacted.]

My Positioning

I write this thesis, as I have mentioned, as somebody who identifies as an anarcho-pacifist. My worldview, in terms of my political beliefs, is a kind of anarcho-communist-pacifism, with a strong affinity towards Gandhi. In this sense, I have an investment in the research. This research is therefore focused both on making an argument for anarcho-pacifism and for exploring it further. This means that this thesis can be seen as, firstly, a normative theoretical piece of work. The second part is an empirical exploration. A full discussion of the methodology of this research is included at the beginning of section two, but it is important to highlight from the beginning that this work is an engagement in activist research and praxis.

Activist research “comes about through long-term commitment to the struggle and those in it, and through critical engagement with what’s going on in that struggle” (King, 2016, p. 8). As a teenager, I was drawn towards nonviolence, and from this, communism, due to its aim of creating of an equitable and non-oppressive society. This led to me spending a few years in a Trotskyist group in my late teens to early twenties. Over time, as I studied more and engaged in more activism, it became clear to me that my own views and experiences did not fit neatly with Leninism/Trotskyism/Marxism as revolutionary theories. Issues regarding the acceptance of physical violence as just and productive grated with me from the beginning.

As time went on, I became increasingly cynical of the way that class relations were seen as the root of oppression in Marxist theory. I increasingly saw many lines of domination along with class struggle, all of which are forms of violence to be opposed and appeared to exist in an interrelated but not necessarily dependent manner. This led to me leaving the group, not long before my trip to Cambodia, and engaging in a few years of organising and learning with like-minded people: organising large and small protests, study groups, film screenings, printing papers and pamphlets, and debating. From here, through nonviolence and my rejection of Marxist-communism, I started to explore anarchism and its rejection of the state, and Tibetan Buddhism and its ethics, system of logic, and the Bodhisattva ideal. At about this time, I started to engage formally in peace and conflict studies, completing a Post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters of Arts thesis, both focusing primarily on the practice of nonviolence. This process has led to a tearing down of the Che Guevara poster that graced my wall as a fourteen-year-old, as I replaced him with pictures of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi, in my early twenties. It has led to a personal commitment to explore anarcho-pacifist nonviolence as a political tool for peace, and engage in its practice both intellectually in this thesis, and practically in my activism and everyday life.

My activist background and world-view provides the basis for calling this activist research. It is the reason I ask these questions. This research seeks to make an intervention in the activist and academic communities I am involved in that aim to create nonviolent societies. In this way, it is political and ideological. The majority of the interviews I conducted were with people who shared similar beliefs and goals as me. However, I have not been directly involved in their day-to-day activism (I had never been to the USA or India before this project). Hence, this is not participant action research in an anarcho-pacifist organisation, but a broad exploration of the ideas and actions of anarcho-pacifism.

It is praxis-based, in that I aim to learn about anarcho-pacifist practices that can contribute back to anarchist-pacifist activism, as well as advocate for the possibilities of anarcho-pacifist peace making and further research into anarcho-pacifist peace making. I also aim to bring together some dispersed examples of scholarship, resistance and activism under one banner, as very few writings on anarcho-pacifist theory look at anarcho-pacifism as a whole. They tend instead to focus on studies of particular key people or movements. This research offers a critique of existing violent systems of power, an exploration of what a nonviolent world could look like, and questions what the necessary factors are for revolutionaries and peacemakers of all kinds to create nonviolent societies.

Outline of Chapters

As I have mentioned, this thesis contains three parts. Part one makes an argument for the anarcho-pacifist position of revolution, nonviolence and peace making. I start Chapter One by defining violence and peace from an anarcho-pacifist perspective. I suggest that a peaceful society is one that prioritises human flourishing. It does what it can to promote human flourishing and not hinder it. Human flourishing can only exist in a society that rejects physical, structural and cultural violence as an option of politics. As a result of this, I label anarcho-pacifist peace as a eudaimonious peace, a concept I will introduce in the chapter.

In Chapters Two and Three, I do two things. First, I examine what an anarcho-pacifist politics would reject as violent. Second, I explain how anarchism and pacifism can naturally come together to form a nonviolent politics that rejects physical, structural and cultural violence as a means and end for peace making.

In Chapter Two, I make an argument, primarily aimed at pacifists, for why pacifism should be anarchist and in the process, lay out a justification for the anarchist rejection of the capitalist-state. In Chapter Three, I make an argument, primarily aimed at anarchists, for why anarchism should be pacifist and, in doing so, champion revolutionary nonviolence rather than revolutionary violence.

In Chapter Four, I move onto the second part of the thesis, as I outline my methods and the details of my exploration. This second section is about exploring anarcho-pacifism by looking at the sarvodaya movment’s experience and theory. Here, I start to explore anarcho-pacifism as an approach to creating peace. As I have made clear, I do this by exploring the anarchistic theories and practices that come out of the Gandhian movement. In this chapter, I justify the case selection further, and introduce the interview participants and the approach I took to conducting the interviews.

In Chapter Five, I introduce the Gandhian movement, briefly outlining Gandhi’s life and contribution along with that of two of his most important followers, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan. I also provide a brief overview of some concepts and terms that are necessary for understanding the Gandhian worldview. This leads directly onto Chapter Six, in which I provide an outline of the Gandhian plan for a nonviolent, anarchistic, society of village republics. I do this primarily by drawing on the writings of both Gandhi and Vinoba.

In Chapters Seven and Eight I focus on the thoughts of the interview participants and their reflections on Gandhian political organisation and action. These two chapters are based on key topics that arose from the interviews. Chapter Seven focuses on how to engage with others: adversaries, allies, and friends. Chapter Eight focuses on the ins and outs of political organisation.

Part Three is made up of one final chapter. In Chapter Nine, I offer some conclusions to the Gandhian case study. I then bring anarcho-pacifism and the Gandhian insights into discussion with peace and conflict studies as a whole, outlining some areas of peace and conflict studies research that this research can speak to.

PART ONE: Anarcho-Pacifist Theory

Chapter One: An Anarcho-Pacifist Conceptualisation of Violence and Peace

Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.

— Paulo Freire (1996 [1970], p. 37)

Anarchism: The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.

– Emma Goldman (1969 [1910], p. 50)

In the introduction to this thesis, I argued that the two political positions of anarchism and pacifism fit together. Before discussing in detail how and why anarchism and pacifism come together, and what anarcho-pacifism could offer for the creation of peaceful societies, it is important to explain what is and what is not peaceful and violent, according to the anarcho-pacifist worldview. Anarcho-pacifist vision of peace is the antithesis of violence. Without delving deeper into these definitions, it is not possible to understand what anarcho-pacifism challenges (violence) and what it aims to create (peace), as the precise meanings of the words peace and violence can hold different meanings in other fields of study, activism, politics and philosophy.

In the anarcho-pacifist conceptualisation of peace that I will present, peace is a condition where incidents of violence are limited as much as possible. This allows humans (or we could go beyond this to say all sentient beings, and the environment) to flourish unhindered by the activity of other humans. In fact, it goes further, namely to flourish with the support of other humans. This large-scope anarchist aim has been dismissed by many as unrealistic and naïvely utopian; a position that this thesis seeks to challenge. The structure of this chapter will be as follows: first, I will discuss the conceptualisation of violence; second, I will discuss the lines between violence, authority, coercion and power; finally, based on what I have written, I will offer a more detailed definition of anarcho-pacifism and its definition of peace.

Conceptualising Violence

I cannot claim that the conceptualisation of violence that I am about to describe is exactly what is held by all of those who label themselves as anarcho-pacifists. As will be discussed in the following chapters, both anarchism and pacifism are not absolutely homogenous positions. Having said this, I believe that the position I am about to describe is consistent with the overall position that anarcho-pacifists take – the rejection of all forms of violence and the aim of assisting human flourishing — even though I may arrive at that position using different sources and drawing on different thinkers.

Many philosophers and political theorists have sought to deal with the questions of what violence is, whether the use of violence is morally acceptable, whether or not it is avoidable, and whether or not it can have productive outcomes. This chapter addresses the first of these questions on a theoretical level. The remaining three questions — whether violence is avoidable, acceptable, or productive — will be addressed in the following chapters where I will delve deeper into the pacifist and anarchist worldviews, along with examples of how violence manifests.[7]

Plentiful definitions of violence posit its nature in quite different ways. Tyner (2016, p. 31) suggests that this is because violence is always an abstraction; there is no thing called violence that has “an existence that transcends time and space.” However, we often presume that there is. Tyner (2016, p. 8–9) writes that, “in arguing against a transhistorical concept of violence, I postulate that violence (and, by extension, crime) is an internally derived abstraction that is a contingent and contextual project of human interaction.” In politics, especially when discussing radical politics, protest and resistance, this confusion often leads to problematic discussions about violence. I will use the example of protests to briefly demonstrate this, as this topic is pertinent for the exploration of anarchism and pacifism. In protests, definitions of violence used by activists (including anarchists and pacifists), the state, and the media, become particularly problematic due to their different positions. Different actions and inactions are viewed and labelled by the observers as violent or not violent, or more violent or less violent, depending on one’s point of view and agenda. In other cases, levels of, or what is called violence and what is not, can be manipulated for political gain.

I will briefly illustrate this with two examples of social movements in the United States: the anti-globalisation movement, focusing specifically on the 1998 World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests in Seattle; and the Black Lives Matter movement, 2013-current. These cases are selected for purely illustrative purposes. Putting questions about the justification and legitimacy of violence to one side for the time-being, in both cases we can see different views of what is and what is not seen as violent when discussing these movements/protests from the perspectives of activists, the state (including the police) and the mainstream media (and consequently, many people watching).

In November 1998, tens of thousands of protesters blocked intersections in downtown Seattle in order to protest the WTO conference that was being held in the city. Activists were protesting as a reaction to corporate globalisation and capitalism and/or neoliberalism and/or free trade. They saw these as being responsible for deaths, poverty, and environmental destruction, which ended or limited the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. Protesters shut down many parts of the city using nonviolent tactics and disrupted the conference. They were met by police. The protests become known for the violence that ensued in parts of the city as some protesters damaged property and the police cracked-down on protesters. However, as I will now demonstrate by using quotes from newspaper articles that were published at the time of the protests, what the various participants labelled as violence were often quite different things.[8]

The view of the protesters was that large-scale violence is committed by the WTO, and any violence that occurred in the protest paled in comparison. The Cincinnati Post (1999) quoted a protester in Seattle as saying that: “The corporations commit way more heinous crimes” than other violence seen in the clashes. A letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few days after the events (Cohn, 1999) also demonstrates the same view:

Much has been made of the violence done to Seattle’s downtown shops by black-clad “anarchists.” The irony is that a few shattered shop windows are receiving more media attention than the large-scale violence visited on people all over the globe by the World Trade Organization.

Protesters also see the crackdown on protesters by police as violent, and sometimes blame violent responses from protesters on them. A piece in the Washington Post (Babington and Burgess, 1999) quotes a protestor who experienced police violence: “Cynthia Hill of Washington, D.C., said she and a large group of protesters had blocked off a street yesterday and stood together peacefully. Hill said two police cars drove into the crowd. ‘I have bruises all over my legs.’”

Other papers quote protest leaders as viewing the WTO, and the police who were defending the WTO event, as violent. The Cincinnati Post (1999) wrote that: “Protest leaders pointed fingers at overreacting police and a few bad apples within their own ranks.” Reuters (Hillis, 1999) wrote that:

The almost festive mood of Friday’s march by about 1,000 people through downtown streets matched that of Thursday’s demonstrations, and speakers took pains to condemn the earlier violence — which they blame largely on the police — and call for healing in the community.

While protesters viewed the WTO and the police as perpetrators of violence, the state, and the media often viewed the protesters as the perpetrators of violence. This was the dominant discourse. This is especially true of the Black Bloc who were a minority in the protest group in Seattle. The Black Bloc are a group of protesters who make a tactical choice to dress in black and conceal their faces to make themselves unidentifiable. They then engage in property damage which they do not see as violence. By breaking the symbols of capitalist-globalisation they aimed to challenge its legitimacy (Paris, 2003). Whatever the motivations of Black Bloc members, their sentiments were not reflected in mainstream media responses to their actions. An example from an article in the Daily Express (1999) entitled “Grim spectre of violence that shocked America” writes that:

More than 68 people were arrested. A small group of protesters, possibly 200 strong, are thought to have been behind most of the attacks on buildings and cars. Dozens of businesses were vandalised.

This segment from Reuters (Charles, 1999), which contains direct quotations from the White House spokesman, shows a similar definition of violence:

…‘Although Clinton is in favour of people expressing their views,’ White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the president was upset when he saw footage of the violent demonstrations in Seattle which led to mass arrests both on Tuesday then again on Wednesday. ‘He was particularly angry at the indiscriminate violence and vandalism,’ Lockhart told reporters.

These articles clearly depict the protesters as violent. It is important to note that the Black Bloc does not aim to kill anybody and sees itself playing a protective role over other protesters when they clash with police – for example, if they draw the police away from other protesters. If they do accept that they are using violence, they certainly see it as much less significant than the violence of the police and corporate globalisation. This is important, because it shows that the use of the term “violence” here is not about killing, but about property damage and disrupting business. When searching for news articles on the event I found no counter-narrative in the mainstream media that wrote about the deadly consequences of globalisation, or which labelled the WTO as violent. The alternative viewpoint was only mentioned when and if they quoted protesters, as above, and was not the voice of the media.

In regard to police crackdowns, members of the police force and onlookers may have seen police as “keeping the peace”. Rather than being violent, they are ending the violence of the protesters as they restore order. The same piece from the Washington Post (Babington and Burgess, 1999) demonstrates media and state views on what is violent, including the views of the police and the president. They wrote, “As hundreds of Seattle police in riot gear restored order by sharply restricting protesters’ movements and arresting 400 demonstrators, the World Trade Organization got down to business”, and, “Tuesday’s sometimes violent street demonstrations that forced the mayor to declare a curfew and the governor to send in National Guard troops.” They add that, “Clinton and other officials blamed Tuesday night’s disturbances on a relative handful of violence-bent demonstrators.” Similar sentiments are found in other papers. For example, in the Daily Express (1999) article mentioned above, riot police who were clearly taking action that could harm others, are not portrayed as violent, as they write, “Shop windows were smashed and a masked mob looted goods as riot police struggled to regain order, firing tear gas, and rubber pellets as well as pepper at the crowds.”

Police saw themselves as being restrained, the sensible ones, despite being the ones using physical force on the crowds of people, the majority of whom were not using physical violence or even damaging property. In the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, we see participants in the movement condemning violence from police in cases of individual police officers shooting black people (mostly unarmed black men), as well as the violent handling of protesters (Gass, 2016). More broadly, BLM members see violence as part and parcel of a white supremacist culture that exists within the police force, and wider society, which means that people of colour are subject to violence more often and more severely than white people. This comes in the form of harm to their bodies (for example, through death or imprisonment) and through other ways of indirectly limiting their life potential (for example, higher poverty and unemployment rates). Onlookers or police may see any abuse towards the police as a form of violence, with it being clear that some police officers oppose the movement (Seelye and Bidgood, 2016). Others view the concept “black lives matter” as a form of violence because they say that “all lives matter”, or even “cops lives matter”. The New York Times (Seelye and Bidgood, 2016) writes about a group of police attempting to remove a BLM banner from a town hall because they see the movement as encouraging violence against themselves:

“Because some elements identified with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement have resorted to killing innocent police officers and putting the lives of citizens in jeopardy, the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition cannot stand for the continued display of that organization’s banner on a public building,” Michael McGrath, an officer of the coalition and the president of the Somerville Police Employees Association, told the crowd. As he spoke, officers from two dozen nearby cities and towns, wearing street clothes, stood quietly around him, and television helicopters hovered overhead. The police unfurled a large blue banner that read “Cops Lives Matter” and held posters saying “Support Your Local Police.” About 100 residents looked on. The police unions want the mayor to remove the “Black Lives Matter” banner and replace it with one saying “All Lives Matter.”

In both examples, it is clear that the views within these groups — protestors, the state and the media – do not overlap. However, I use these examples merely to demonstrate the range of what the term violence describes, and, just as importantly, what it does not describe. In these two examples, what is viewed as violence describes a range of actions towards bodies, objects and the environment; as a visible process and an invisible process; between individuals, small groups, or across societies and the globe; and depending on who is viewing the action. In short, what is viewed as violence depends on who is labelling the violence.

It is clear that the view of what is and is not violence in different groups is often contradictory. Police using physical force against protesters in Seattle cannot both be violent and peaceful; these are the antithesis of each other.[9] In the BLM example, the police actions imply that it is black people in the BLM Movement who are being violent through exclusion, suggesting that they don’t think other lives matter, and also by provoking physical violence towards police. The police seemingly ignore the deaths of black people at the hands of police. This does not fit with the point of view of the BLM movement: that black people are disproportionately subject to violence at the hands of police; at the hands of a white supremacist culture; that the term ‘all lives matter’ acts to dismiss violence directed disproportionately towards people of colour and ignores or suppresses their voices; and that the term ‘black lives matter’ does not dismiss the value of other lives.

Given the uses of the word violence in the cases above, is violence a useful word, and is there any agreed common ground between the different parties? Despite contradictory uses of the word “violence”, it is fairly clear that direct harm is usually seen as a form of violence. This harm is key to using the term, although it is clear that what the harm is – against protesters’ bodies or shop windows – is selected quite deliberately to fit one’s political agenda. When Bill Clinton ignored police violence and focused on the actions of the Black Bloc, he was clearly being selective about whom he wanted to condemn. He was not taking a stance against violence, as the police clearly caused harm — harm to people’s bodies by trained and armed police that was overwhelmingly more forceful. When police in Boston talk of the “violence” of not stating all lives matter, they selectively ignore the harm caused by armed police who kill black people at a rate far higher than they kill white people. However, my point is that despite the wilful blindness towards the harm committed and the proportions of and severity of the harm, they still need to suggest there is “harm” to label an act or person as violent.

It is probably quite clear to most that intentional physical harm is violent. For example, most would see murder as being violent, and this would be hard to deny by anyone. It may be less clear to people as to whether or not systems and structures that allow direct bodily harm to occur are violent, or even whether or not these systems exist, as in the case of racism and white supremacy, both of which are clearly rejected, consciously or not, by the police officers described above. Systemic violence is much easier for the powers that be to deny, I suggest, partly because it is less visible, and partly because it is seen as a norm rather than an exception like a murder. In relation to this, Tyner (2016, p. 27) suggests, that killing is often viewed as violence, but ‘letting-die’ is often not, despite the two having the same outcome: death. So while murder is generally accepted as violence, when a decision is made by a government to cut spending on healthcare, and that spending cut denies adequate healthcare for somebody in need — despite the existence of the wealth, recourses, technology and knowledge that could help that person — and that person dies, this is not often labelled as violence. This relates back to the Seattle protestors’ view on the WTO, which they blame for committing violence towards many people in the world in much the same way.

What I have written so far suggests that the word violence is either: (1) used without thought to its meaning, without a precise definition; (2) it is used to provoke an emotional response or as political positioning, for example, to get support for crackdowns on protestors; (3) it is not often used in cases where it could or should be, where unnecessary death and suffering still occurs. This critique does not, however, mean the term violence is meaningless, or should be used haphazardly. Anarcho-pacifism has a precise and a broad definition of violence that both encompasses and broadens the popular discourse beyond direct physical violence between individuals who wish to cause bodily harm. It is broad in its scope, but specific in what it means. The basis of anarcho-pacifism, as stated above, is allowing and maximising human flourishing. Put simply, an anarcho-pacifist definition of violence is any human action that unnecessarily restricts the flourishing of others. Taking this position, it is clear that an anarcho-pacifist definition of violence must not only include killing but also “letting-die”, as well as any form of social organisation or production that allows killing and letting die. It goes further still, because being alive does not necessarily imply flourishing. Shortening life and restricting possibilities to thrive therefore entails violence. Consequently, any definition of violence that is only concerned with physical violence is too restrictive for anarcho-pacifism. This position also deals with issues such as a surgeon amputating a limb, thus causing harm, but ultimately to save or improve life and therefore assist with flourishing.

This perception of what violence is and is not fits well with the definition of violence provided by Johan Galtung. Galtung (1969, 1990) offers a broad definition of violence that can be interpreted as being consistent with the anarcho-pacifist concern for human flourishing. He defines violence as, “the avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs” that “lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible” (Ho, 2007, seen in Leech, 2012). He then splits it into three different forms:

  1. The first is called direct violence, and this includes physical and psychological violence (Galtung, 1969). From this definition, it is clear that causing death and injurious physical harm is direct violence.

  2. The second is structural violence, which Galtung (1969, p. 171) describes as social injustice, coming from social structures. Graeber (2006, p. 76) suggests that structural violence is often reinforced and maintained by the threat of force. Using examples from above, denying healthcare, or not funding it sufficiently, and letting people die is a form of structural violence.

  3. The third, cultural violence, “makes direct and structural violence look, even feel, right — or at least not wrong” (1990, p. 291).

All three are interrelated, and there is no reason to think that one causes more suffering than another (Galtung, 1969, 1990). All three prevent, in different ways, human flourishing which is the aim of anarcho-pacifism. Galtung’s definition of violence can be applied back to the Seattle WTO protests and Black Lives Matter examples in order to further highlight the anarcho-pacifist position on what is and is not violence.

From an anarcho-pacifist standpoint, the reason for the emergence of these protests/movements in the first place is clearly violent. The description of violence stated suggests that the actions of the WTO and more broadly, capitalism and corporate globalisation, are forms of structural violence that lead to direct violence. They have negative effects on people and the environment, through exploitation, oppression and the denial of resources, all of which hinder what would otherwise be possible.10 In Black Lives Matter the same can be said about the violence of racism and white supremacy, leading to the disproportionate deaths of black men at the hands of police. In both examples, protesters would view the police crackdown as a form of direct violence, as well as any attacks on police; both are intended to cause bodily harm, hindering flourishing, as well as preventing the protestors from successfully making large-scale change.

Whether property damage (seen mostly in the Seattle protests) is violent or not is slightly more complicated. Anarchists do not normally see property damage as violent, as damage to property, certainly in this type of protest, does not generally restrict human flourishing. Richard Solnit (McHenry, 2015, p. 24), an organiser of the Seattle protests, elaborates on this point:

I want to be clear that property damage is not necessarily violence. The fire fighter breaks the door to get the people out of the building. But the husband breaks the dishes to demonstrate to his wife that he can and may also break her. It’s violence displaced onto the inanimate as a threat to the animate. Quietly eradicating experimental GMO crops or pulling up mining claim stakes is generally like the fire fighter. Breaking windows during a big demonstration is more like the husband. I saw the windows of a Starbucks and a Niketown broken in downtown Seattle after nonviolent direct action had shut the central city and the World Trade Organization ministerial down. I saw scared-looking workers and knew that the CEOs and shareholders were not going to face that turbulence and they sure were not going to be the ones to clean it up. Economically it meant nothing to them.

Solnit suggests that the aim of the property damage is key to whether or not it can be seen as violent. The fire-fighter clearly does not hinder flourishing. The threatening husband certainly does. However, it is important to point out that the symbolic nature of breaking windows is hardly likely to result in any hindrance to human flourishing, and if it did inspire others to join the anti-capitalist movement, it may even help. However, it is also entirely possible that this kind of action could lead to workers losing their jobs during a cost-recovering process, which would be a type of violence.

A clear-cut example of where property damage could also be seen as violent is, for example, if vital infrastructure such as a hospital was destroyed, thereby denying medical care to those in need. Another example is the bombing of cities in war, or other attacks on infrastructure that harms people both immediately and in the long-term if it cannot be replaced, causing structural violence – for example, roads are destroyed that prevent people from reaching the hospital or from food supplies reaching a town. However, when talking about property damage in relation to the movements above, this is less relevant as war is not being used as a tactic, and the damage did not involve the same destructive capabilities.

Verbal abuse from protesters or police in both examples could be seen as a form of cultural violence if it, consequentially, helps any direct violence feel right. In regard to the media coverage, a lack of critique of the violence of corporate globalisation (assuming for now that it is violent), or a lack of critique of the violence of racism, or a of lack coverage of either’s effects, is a form of cultural violence as it puts a blanket over the structural and direct violence that is being committed, making the violence invisible or acceptable. On the 2 December 1999, an article in The Independent (1999) claimed that a media blanket silenced the protests while they were happening. They wrote:

The dozens of network and cable stations that shelved regular programmeming to show such spectacles as the O J Simpson car chase, the phalanxes of terrified children running out of Columbine High School and the office complex in Atlanta where a gunman was on the loose, offered viewers precisely nothing… There was no live, open-ended coverage of the “battle in Seattle” on American television; it was not until yesterday that viewers were shown the scale of the disturbances, by which time it was history, and edited.

If the media does not silence what has happened, it can still commit structural and cultural violence if it reduces the effect of direct violence that has occurred. Violence is committed if an incident of an unarmed black man being shot by a member of the police force is portrayed only as an incident between individuals, ignoring the role of structural violence in the form of racism and white supremacy. Using the narrative of ‘all lives matter’ does the same thing.

What is and what is not violence, from the examples used, is fairly clear when Galtung’s wide-scope definition of violence is used. We can see what actions prevent what would have otherwise been possible, and therefore restrict human flourishing in various ways. However, there are other situations found within these examples, and others too, which are less clear. For example, some may see coercive protest tactics, such as protesters shutting down central Seattle, as violent. Others may see physical clashes where protesters throw things at police as nonviolent, as the police wield more power and hold positions of authority.

Authority, Coercion and Power

To give a comprehensive overview of what anarcho-pacifism sees as violent, I will now delve deeper into its position on coercion, power and authority, and whether, how, and when these things are used to prevent or enhance human flourishing — when they are violent or not. By doing this, the definition of violence I am using becomes more unambiguously anarchist. While accepting Galtung’s definition, I will now explore these particulars of it through an anarchist lens that is not explored by Galtung.

A major, if not definitive piece of anarchist philosophy is its critique of authority. Anarchists are sceptical of all kinds of authority, examining them from case to case and if they reject them, they often challenge them (McLaughlin, 2007, p. 35). McLaughlin (2007, p. 63) states that anarchism “is inspired, at bottom, by doubt about the morality of relations of domination and so on, not by fundamental belief in any ‘totalistic’ idea that should shape reality.” Elaborating on the anarchist position on authority, Chomsky (2013, p. 33) states that:

…every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified – it has no prior justification. Well, in that case I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it – invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else – they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top. So I think that whenever you find situations of power, these questions should be asked – and the person who claims the legitimacy of authority always bears the burden of justifying it. And if they can’t justify it, it’s illegitimate and should be dismantled. To tell you the truth, I don’t see anarchism as being much more than that.

Given the definition of violence provided above, can we say that authority is a form of violence? The anarcho-pacifist answer to this question is: if it hinders flourishing, yes. Stopping a child from running into traffic hardly hinders flourishing; in fact, it promotes it if it stops the child getting hurt. However, as Chomsky has alluded to, most forms of authority do not stand up to justification – they hinder rather than help. As the purpose of this section is to define what is and is not violence, I will not elaborate here on the specifics of where we see violent authority in society, and therefore what structures need to be challenged, from an anarchist perspective. This will be addressed in the following two chapters. For now, I will outline what authority is in a more philosophical way, as delineated by McLaughlin (2007).

What is the nature of authority? McLaughlin (2007, pp. 44–46) writes that authority is something only applied to human relations; the authority of someone or some group over another. In this way, it is a specific form of power. He proposes that authority also has a two-way relationship between those in authority and those who are not. Those in authority hold power over those who are not, while those who do not have authority, recognise the power exercised over themselves as legitimate, and they obey (McLaughlin, 2007, p. 54).

Authority encapsulates two other forms of social power that are rejected by anarchists. These are domination and exploitation, both of which are often interlinked. McLaughlin (2007, pp. 47–48) defines domination as “the capacity of one party to exercise control over another party” and exploitation as “the capacity of one party to gain materially through the efforts of another party, and at the latter’s expense.” It is when these occur, that we see violence.[11] In the presence of domination and exploitation we see one individual or group limit the flourishing of another for their own benefit. In authority, we see domination and exploitation, in the favour of the person or group in authority – but the person or group in authority have a right to dominate and exploit and the dominated and exploited must obey. McLaughlin writes that authority “is a normative power claimed and exercised by A, and recognized and submitted to by B” (2007, p. 54), where B must “surrender private judgment” (2007, p. 57).

McLaughlin (2007, p. 44) uses the example of a coffee cup to demonstrate a difference between power and authority. While he has the power to pick up the coffee mug it would be absurd to suggest that he has authority over it. The coffee cup cannot recognise the power exercised over it as legitimate or illegitimate. In McLaughlin’s opinion, humans can dominate animals (2007, pp. 44–45), or we could say animals dominate the earth, but, in the same way as the coffee cup, we do not have authority over them.

So, if authority and power are not synonymous, what is power? I define power as the capacity of an individual or group to make change happen in a chosen way. McLaughlin (2007, p. 47) suggests that we see social power arise in many forms, “both ‘natural’ and ‘conventional’, based on strength, intelligence, appearance, gender, reputation, language, culture, geography, resources, wealth, luck, and so forth.” Anarchists do not reject social power; in fact, they promote it through revolution (McLaughlin, 2007, p. 47), in order to liberate. Starhawk (1988, cited in Lakey, 2001) lists three types of power of which anarchists reject the first and embrace the second two. Power-over encompasses domination and authority; for the benefit of one over the other. Power-with embraces cooperation and mutual aid (a concept I shall return to later in the thesis), for the benefit of all involved. Power-from-within is psychological and/or spiritual. It is important to note that the “for the benefit of one over the other” is an important distinction between what is and is not domination, because otherwise “cooperation could be seen as mutually exploitative” (McLaughlin, 2007, p. 48).

A term that is regularly associated with authority is hierarchy, which is rejected by anarchists as being inherently dominating. To quote Martha Ackelsberg (2005, pp. 40–41):

Hierarchical institutions foster alienated and exploitative relationships among those who participate in them, disempowering people and distancing them from their own reality. Hierarchies make some people dependent on others, blame the dependent for their dependency, and then use that dependency as a justification for further exercise of authority .. Anarchists argue that to be always in a position of being acted upon and never to be allowed to act is to be doomed to a state of dependence and resignation. Those who are constantly ordered about and prevented from thinking for themselves soon come to doubt their own capacities ... [they] have great difficulty defining, or naming, themselves and their experience and even more difficulty acting on that sense of self in opposition to societal norms, standards, and expectations.

Hierarchical institutions allow authority and domination and therefore, violence. The acceptance of their existence, or the belief that there is no alternative to them, could be classified as a strong and pervasive form of cultural violence if alternatives do indeed exist. Anarchists argue that hierarchies lead to a state of stress. They leave, for the majority, no time or opportunity to pursue meaning in their lives or to experiment with new ways of being because they must work for the desires of those at the top, that is, those with the most power-over. Agency and liberty are removed (obviously, in some cases more than others). This is clearly a form of structural violence, limiting flourishing. Naturally, to reject authority means to reject hierarchy, and to label authority as violence necessitates labelling hierarchical organisation as violent. Hierarchy is the structural form that authority takes. This is certainly not a rejection of organisation, which anarchists embrace. Nor is it a rejection of leadership, only permanent and privileging leadership.

One more concept I must address is coercion, which is often associated with violence. Activists, anarchists and pacifists included, often use coercive tactics that can be either violent or nonviolent. This is particularly important for this discussion of anarcho-pacifism, which is concerned with protest and ultimately social revolution. My stance is that it is possible to act coercively and nonviolently, rather than having to take a stance of non-resistance as a result of committing to nonviolence. In fact, many nonviolent tactics are about resistance, as will be discussed further in Chapter Three. They are forceful – they generate power to make change – yet they do not use violence (Sharp, 2005, 2011; Schock, 2005; May, 2015; Vinthagen, 2015).[12]

Protest action can be violent. It could aim to restrict the flourishing of another, for example, if it demeans or physically harms a member of the elite class being challenged, or the armed forces that protect them. May (2015, p. 49) writes that coercion does remove autonomy, however, it can be done without removing the opponent’s dignity, and this is essential for coercive action to be nonviolent. In other words, it does limit others’ actions, namely, actions that limit the majority’s opportunity to flourish. However, it does not seek to humiliate them or restrict their ability to live with others and have equal opportunity and support. By recognising and respecting the others’ dignity, nonviolent protestors do not dominate, exploit or hold authority over, and therefore, do not create structural violence. By not physically or psychologically harming others, protestors do not cause direct violence. Clearly, by not promoting any discourses that allow either of these, there is no dissemination of cultural violence. Freire (1996 [1970], p. 39) echoes this point when he writes that:

As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and supress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression. It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors.

It could also be argued that living in a society that benefits all — to not live in situations of oppression, or inequality, of domination and exploitation – would benefit those who currently hold violent authority as well. Therefore, although nonviolent coercion may temporarily remove the autonomy of those who sit at the top of hierarchies, it opens up an opportunity for their flourishing too. An important point in addition to this is that any damages that are inflicted through nonviolent coercive tactics are reversible, as nobody is killed or physically harmed.

It is true that post-revolution or after a successful protest campaign, somebody who sat at the top of a hierarchy and was removed, through a revolution for example, may not possess as much materially as they did before – for example, if a dictator was overthrown by protesters, and his vast sums of wealth were redistributed. While this is true, the accumulation of material possessions alone certainly does not reflect the concept of flourishing for anarchists, although this may be the concept of flourishing from the perspective of capitalist materialism. To understand the difference, I will now offer my proposal of what an anarchist peace is – what removing violence from society means.

Defining an Anarcho-Pacifist Peace

As I will explain and have already stated, peace is the existence of flourishing. This flourishing is not based simply on hedonic happiness derived from sensory experiences. Though these sensory experiences are important, to an extent, they do not automatically imply flourishing which has a deeper spiritual and/or psychological component. This deeper spiritual and/or psychological component of happiness is based on the minimal material sufficiency for a decent life.

To return to Starhawk’s definitions of power, a power-from-within — which is supported and encouraged by power-with others – is necessary for flourishing, both of which are enhanced by the absence of power-over. Within peace and conflict studies, the closest definition of peace to this anarchist flourishing peace is the concept of positive peace. Positive peace, in a complete form, can be defined as the absence of Galtung’s three types of violence – direct, structural and cultural. It could be said that this positive peace is the aim of anarcho-pacifism. This implies a state of freedom, an absence of domination, with the physical means to survive available to all, and a state of existence that is not hindered by violent authority, sexism, racism, and all other kinds of prejudice.[13]

However, it is clear that the term positive peace is currently used in peace studies in ways that are quite different to an anarcho-pacifist concept of peace, and arguably Galtung’s original concept. While Galtung’s (1969, p. 171) definition of positive peace stipulates the absence of structural violence and the presence of social justice, the critique of what violence is within much of the peace studies literature is less comprehensive than what I am describing here. Gleditsch et al. (2014, p. 145) find that the term positive peace “was popular in peace research for a decade or so, but has largely evaporated” in renowned peace journals. While the concept is known, it has rarely been explored or discussed in recent years.

Here are a few examples of how the term ‘positive peace’ is currently used within peace studies when it does surface, and how its use differs from an anarchist perspective. Janzen (2008, p. 56), in an article on the peace process in Guatemala, defines positive peace as “a state of peace that is characterized by the elimination of unequal social structures and discrimination, and the promotion of personal and community freedom and social and economic equality”, which is all well and good, but he later refers to a country with positive peace as a “nation built on social justice” (Janzen, 2008, p. 58), alluding to concepts of the nation and the state, which is rejected by anarchists as a form of violence, as will be explored in the next chapter.

Another example is Animasawun (2012, p. 126). While discussing Nigeria, Animasawun is similar to Janzen in suggesting that a state is necessary, writing that the state must pursue security for citizens as well as the state itself. Animasawun (2012, p. 128) suggests that positive peace “requires the cooperation of both citizens and the state in order to consolidate the legitimacy of the Nigerian state and ensure that the Nigerian army’s mandate of the ‘Right to Protect’ is strengthened and legitimized.” This conception of positive peace also includes the use and necessity of the military, which as will become clearer in the coming chapters, is incompatible with an anarcho-pacifist conception of peace. For anarcho-pacifism, the state and the military are both seen as perpetuators of violence, and therefore, unpeaceful.

Another example is Clark (2009) who calls for constitutional, state-centric, reform in order to create positive peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina. More recently, Mironova and Witt (2015) discuss peacekeeping and the potential for positive peace in Kosovo. Again, military-style peacekeeping is not aligned with an anarcho-pacifist approach to peace. While Mironova and Witt (2015, p. 2095) find limited effectiveness of the military approach in long-term peacebuilding, they still promote state-centric institution building, finishing the article with the sentence:

Our experimental research affirms that while peacekeeping may be effective in the short-term to repair and restore norms vital to social order and cooperation, they should not be a substitute for other strategies aimed at sustainable, long-term institution building.

It is clear that the term positive peace does not (at least in its current usage) describe the same peace that anarcho-pacifism seeks. The peace that is the aim of anarcho-pacifism, as interpreted from my anarcho-pacifist perspective, could be termed a eudaimonious peace, or a flourishing peace, which I will now describe. The use of this term hopefully removes any confusion that may develop through using the term positive peace. I also use it because it puts the emphasis on the presence of flourishing rather than a lack of violence, on the growth of something new and positive, as well as the reduction and eradication of something negative.

I assume that the reason people want to achieve a life that is free of violence is due to wanting to be happy and not suffer; and violence, which is by Galtung’s definition “avoidable impairment”, hinders this aim. People, generally, also want this for other people around them. The word happiness has different meanings. To avoid confusion as to what kind of happiness anarcho-pacifism is aiming for, I am adopting the word eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is a Greek word which is often translated as genuine happiness, but more precisely as flourishing (Wallace, 2005, p. 68). Eudaimonia refers to, according to Wallace (2002, p. 3), “‘the perfect life’ in so far as perfection is attainable by humanity.” I use the word eudaimonia in a different way to Wallace, who uses it to talk about achieving an ultimate enlightened happiness in one’s own mind — an ultimate happiness for the individual that does not rely on external factors but is a happiness originating from one’s own mind. This is different to hedonic happiness that is derived from sensory stimuli – both of which are important for wellbeing (Wallace, 2014a, 2014b). Hedonic happiness comes from having what is necessary for life, such as food, shelter and other material things. These things are necessary, but don’t automatically allow someone to achieve a eudaimonious happiness, to flourish. By making this distinction, a eudaimonious peace would differ from a conception of peace grounded in utilitarian ethics, which simply defines happiness as “pleasure and the absence of pain” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1998).

A parallel to this concept of eudaimonious peace is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943). Maslow puts forward the theory that physiological needs, and a feeling of safety, must be met before people can then achieve higher levels of fulfilment. This allows, ultimately, for self-actualisation and, as Maslow would suggest in later years, self-transcendence – reaching one’s full potential, and then having altruistic/spiritual goals outside of oneself (Maslow, 1954, 1969). Hedonic happiness, achieved via having food, shelter, and other basic needs, lays the foundation for eudaimonia.

I speak of eudaimonious peace as a socio-political concept, despite the term eudaimonia being used in psychology (and as Wallace uses it) in relation to the individual. This is achieved when actions that are viewed as important in the life of an individual and of the community (and that do not encumber others) can occur unhindered. It alludes to a flourishing society focused on wellbeing rather than profit, where all have dignity. Put another way, a society that experiences eudaimonious peace does not hinder any individual’s ability to achieve internal eudaimonious/enlightened happiness. What Wallace, as a Buddhist, describes as the achievement of eudaimonious happiness, and what Maslow, as a Western psychologist, refers to as self-actualisation and self-transcendence, may differ in terms of how to get there and how much happiness can be achieved. This is not problematic; the main point from an anarchist perspective is the creation of a society that provides basic material needs, and supports people to achieve what they want to achieve on top of this. Individuals and groups are given the opportunity to pursue meaningful occupation, a meaningful life, whatever this means to them. Society supports rather than hinders this. Therefore, eudaimonious peace is both libertarian and communal. What people want to achieve will vary between groups and individuals. For anarchism, this is not problematic, as it does not aim to homogenise people or groups. Nor does it offer a prescription for how to achieve happiness and satisfaction.

While activities that individuals and groups choose to pursue may not bring happiness, as many activities do not, they are given space to experiment and are not hindered by violent authority. This is not to say there will not be other factors that could limit one’s ability to pursue a meaningful life, such as famine, natural or accidental disasters, or illness. Allowing this kind of flourishing is also unlikely to lead to everyone achieving an enlightened happiness. Nor does it suggest the development of societies that resemble a ‘heaven-on-earth’ utopia, but, it does not hinder people in striving for this utopia. The violences that hinder happiness — including exploitation, oppression, and domination of any kind – have been removed from society. What I will argue in the next chapter, and throughout this thesis, is that eudaimonious peace can only be achievable with the removal of violent hierarchical structures, including the capitalist-state and a commitment to pacifism. Violent hierarchical structures and the use of violence in the conduct of politics, by their natural consequences, break Maslow’s foundations and hinder more than they meet needs. Therefore, a eudaimonious peace is anarchist.

Also, removing the hindrances to peace and providing the support for people to live in peace, cannot be done with violence because, I will argue, means and ends are inseparable. It can however, be achieved through a nonviolent anarchy. Therefore, eudaimonious peace-making is by definition pacifist. Socrates suggested that eudaimonia is only possible when people are virtuous (Reshotko, 2009). Eudaimonius peace is consistent with this, as it is developed in a community that is committed to nonviolence. Nonviolence is seen here both as non-harm, and a striving to create good. This striving to create good is encompassed by two things: first, resistance to violence; and second, by mutual aid. Mutual aid, a term coined by Kropotkin (2012 [1902]), is association for mutual welfare and it is as old as humanity. In Kropotkin’s view, we would not be here if this were not the case, as he argues that it was cooperation rather than the survival of the fittest that accounts for the success of the human species.

However, this mutual aid tendency has been hindered. Kropotkin describes, not the strengthening, but the destruction of the social institutions that embodied it, with the growth of the modern European nation-state from the fifteenth century onward. For the next three centuries, states systematically weeded out many institutions in which the mutual aid tendency had formerly found its expression, for example, through the destruction of the commons and folkmotes in Europe, and through colonisation and, as a result, the suppression of other ways of being (Ward, 1973, 2002). Eudaimonious peace calls for a return to societies that are based on mutual aid, and therefore, the removal of the capitalist-state that hinders it though its violence (to be addressed in Chapter Two). In a society that experiences eudaimonious peace, people can pursue their own needs while also pursuing activities that contribute to the whole. As no individual exists in isolation or produces everything they need in life by themselves, mutual aid and the interconnectivity it implies is seen as a natural law, and part of our human nature. No totally selfish and secluded individual could survive and thrive on their own.

The idea of a eudaimonious peace also fits well with anarchism for another reason. As Anscombe (1958) suggests, moral ethics rely on a law-maker and punisher. Driver (2014) writes that Anscombes’:

primary charge in the article is that, as secular approaches to moral theory, they are without foundation. They use concepts such as ‘morally ought,’ ‘morally obligated,’ ‘morally right,’ and so forth that are legalistic and require a legislator as the source of moral authority. In the past God occupied that role, but systems that dispense with God as part of the theory are lacking the proper foundation for meaningful employment of those concepts.

Ethics based on the laws of Gods or the State are inadequate for an anarchist society that has no central authority, as they necessitate a legislator. This does not mean that people should reject theist religion, but that it cannot be the source of morals for all people, many of whom are non-theistic. Eudaimonious moral ethics offer an alternative to duty based moral ethics. Eudaimonious peace, giving maximum freedom for people within a society to pursue a meaningful life, supported as much as possible by the community, clearly contains a strong ethical position. However, it does not enforce law — power-over — as this would break its core tenet. Liberal peace models aim to use power-over in order to create peace (Doyle, 1997 in Richmond 2017, p. 638). This is unable to create the ends that eudaimonious peace aims for. This rejection of the law would need to be replaced with nonviolent, likely agonistic, methods of dealing with disagreement. Of course, issues will still arise between different groups. This opens up the need for nonviolence, resistance, and an agonistic approach to dealing with disputes (Shinko, 2008), which will be discussed in further detail later in the thesis.[14]

Eudaimonious peace may also differ from emancipatory peace. Booth (1991) defines emancipation as ‘the freeing of people … from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do’, and, Richmond (2010, p. 666) states that fourth generation peacebuilding is “concerned with emancipation and social justice beyond the state”. Emancipatory peace currently moves in the same direction as eudaimonious peace, but stops short of anarchist conclusions. It suggests that peace must be built “from the local, the everyday and from below” (Richmond, 2010, p. 671), and is wary of state power. However, despite acknowledging major shortfalls it does not reject the state (Jackson, 2017a). Neither does it reject capitalism. Nor does it specifically have human flourishing as its aim. From an anarchist perspective, it may be on the right track, but unless and until it aims to remove the problem of the capitalist-state, and all forms of violent hierarchy and inequality that such as structure enables, it will never live up to Booth’s definition of emancipation. As the inherent nature of the capitalist-state is hierarchy, it must be removed to create peace, to emancipate. I will return to the discussion of anarcho-pacifism and current peace and conflict studies theory in the later part of the thesis, but it is important to introduce here in order to frame the difference from the outset.

To finish this section, I will briefly discuss the concept of utopia. I have already written that I do not envisage eudaimonious peace as the achievement of “heaven-on-earth”. In this sense, it is non-utopian. Joseph Nye (cited in Booth 1991) distinguishes between “end-point” and “process” utopias. The first aims to find a blueprint, which when achieved, implies that “history virtually comes to a stop” (Booth, 1991, p. 536). In this sense, utopia is rejected, as no person’s mind is big enough to plan an entire society. To quote Chomsky (2013, p. 27):

…you can’t really figure out what problems are going to arise in group situations unless you experiment with them – it’s like physics: you can’t just sit around thinking about what the world would be like under such and such conditions, you’ve got to experiment and learn how things actually work out.

Once features that are necessary for eudaimonious peace are established, such as the need for society without a capitalist-state, there is a need for experimentation with how this can be lived. I am also not saying that new ideas should not be discussed, just that we should not plan a whole society. It is important to discuss new ways of being to give people direction and confidence in the direction that is being taken – to show how change can be achieved. It is also important to understand successes and mistakes from past experiments in anarchistic ways of living (Anarchist FAQ, 2017).

If the definition for “process utopia” is used, then eudaimonious peace may be considered utopian. Process utopia is defined as “steps calculated to make a better world somewhat more probable for future generations” (Booth, 1991, p. 536). Booth (1991, p. 537) states “process utopianism is thus practical utopianism… not a ‘revolutionary’ agenda in which the ends justifies the means, but rather an approach to politics in which in a real sense the means are the ends.” While Booth envisions the “process” in terms of reformist steps towards change, this thesis will argue that Booth’s understanding of a process utopia can be enacted in a revolutionary way; in a revolution in which the means and ends are not seen as separate. As will become more and more clear, eudaimonious peace – an anarcho-pacifist peace – is a revolutionary approach that recognises that means and ends are inseparable. Therefore, the end point of a eudaimonious peace can only be produced by living eudaimonious peace; by living as an anarcho-pacifist and creating spaces for others to do the same, until it becomes a dominant way for living. That is, until societies experience equity, liberty, and can deal with their conflicts nonviolently. How this kind of peace – this practice of nonviolence – can be achieved is the primary focus of this thesis and will be explored throughout.


Now that I have established an anarcho-pacifist definition of peace and violence, I will move on to make an argument for the coming together of anarchism and pacifism. While people and movements have held anarcho-pacifist views, little theoretical work has been done to bring the two ideologies together. My perhaps controversial argument is that the logical end point of pacifist theory is to become anarchist, and the logical end point for anarchism is to commit to pacifism. I will build a case for this claim in two chapters, the first focusing on pacifism to anarchism and the second on anarchism to pacifism. Chapters Two and Three will deal more with the nature of violence and specifically how violence is enacted. In Chapter Two, I will outline the violence committed by the capitalist-state and argue that pacifists must therefore reject the capitalist-state. In Chapter Three I will explore the use of violence to create change, and to do this I will more thoroughly discuss the nature of the violent act itself. This will I hope, combined with what is written so far, give a comprehensive overview of the anarcho-pacifism worldview. This can then act as a basis for exploring its practices, both theoretically and empirically.

Chapter Two: From Pacifism to Anarchism and the Violence of the Capitalist-State

People still expect the solution to come from the other side rather than realising that this is a system that we cannot expect to give us a decent life.

— Silvia Federici (2017)

We need to get rid of institutions which exercise authority in the name of service.

– Vinoba Bhave (2014a [1942], p. 58)

In the next two chapters, I will make a case for joining anarchism and pacifism together. As previously stated, the logic of the anarcho-pacifist position can be explained like this: The pacifist position, put simply, is the rejection of all violence. Violence, as defined above, includes domination and exploitation (and forms of authority that lead to, and/or reinforce them). Therefore, pacifists, following their own commitment to the rejection of violence, must reject domination and exploitation. This rejection must include a rejection of the state, which is based on the legitimate monopoly of violence. The result is that the pacifist takes an anarchist stance. This anarchist stance leads to the rejection of all forms of violent authority as a means and an end, and this includes a rejection of the state. Anarchism, on the other hand, is defined by its position against domination and exploitation (and forms of authority that lead to and/or reinforce them). Violence is inherently about one person or group dominating another. If anarchists reject domination, they must also reject violence.

As I also mentioned in the introduction to this thesis, pacifism is foremost defined by Cady (2010, p. 17) as “the view that war, by its very nature, is wrong and that humans should work for peaceful resolution of conflict”. Different types of pacifism reach this conclusion in different ways. There are two main routes: some reject war out of principle, while others reject it because they do not believe war can be justified in practice (Cady, 2010, p. 69). Cady suggests that pacifism is the opposite of warism – the view that “war is morally justifiable in principle and often morally justified in fact” (Cady, 2010, p. 17). While pacifist theory has (mostly) developed in response to war, its position can be seen as a general rejection of the use of violence to achieve political ends.

Specific arguments for the adoption of the pacifist worldview for peace-making will be addressed in the next section when I make an argument for anarchism to be pacifist. In this chapter, I will explore the second half of Cady’s pacifism definition. Cady (2010, p. 17) states that pacifists believe that “…humans should work for peaceful resolution of conflict.” Underlying this position is a belief that people can live and engage in politics without using violence. However, how this works in practice can be conceptualised in various ways. Different pacifists would provide different answers to the questions: What is peace? And what does it mean to work for peace? If we take the definition of eudaimonious peace described in the previous chapter, we will come to different answers to a pacifist who believes peace is maintained by the mere absence of war. The first asks more critical questions about the nature of politics, while the second largely accepts the current political system, but rejects the use of war within it.

Some pacifists accept the state, arguing that states are not evil but it is an evil act for them to go to war; others reject the state’s ability to define what is morally right and wrong; and others reject state sovereignty because of this, but also because it is seen as a key perpetrator of violence in society (Sellar and Norman, 2012, pp. 314–320). I do not aim to provide an overview of the many types of pacifism that exist.[15] Instead, I will argue that for pacifism to fully reject violence, the adoption of anarchism – or rather, anarcho-pacifism — is the logical conclusion. Forms of pacifism that explicitly reject physical violence but fail to challenge structural and cultural violence are not working towards a eudaimonious peace. Anarcho-pacifism is unique among pacifist positions because in addition to direct physical violence, it explicitly rejects structural and cultural violence, and importantly, as a result of this, it rejects the state as well as any other form of hierarchical organisation. There may be other forms of pacifism that touch on the need to reject violent hierarchy and prejudice, for example, in some forms of socialist pacifism. However, I will argue that they do not follow these positions to their full conclusions. The anarchist does, and therefore challenges the deep roots of violence.

In this chapter, I aim to show how the state’s institutions, and the relationships and practices that it creates, lead to violence being committed in the world. For pacifism to take the violence of the capitalist-state for granted, to accept the status quo, is to accept the very violence that they want to remove. My key aim in this chapter is to demonstrate how the capitalist-state is inherently a major creator of violence. I will discuss this in sections. First, I will define what the state is and why I refer to the capitalist-state throughout, rather than capitalism and the state as two separate entities. Second, I will discuss the direct and often fatal violence caused by the capitalist-state, which anarchism asserts needs to be removed in order to create peace. Third, I will discuss non-fatal violence caused by the state, with an emphasis on the structural violence caused by the capitalist-state. Finally, as a continuation of the discussion about structural violence, I will discuss the role of racism and sexism within the violence of the capitalist-state because some people experience more of the capitalist-state’s violence than others. My conclusions will reject the notion that there can be a “good state”, or “good capitalism”, as I reaffirm the position that if pacifists fully reject violence, then they should also be anarchists.

Conceptualising the State

Throughout this thesis I will refer to the modern state as the capitalist-state because I argue that it is not possible to discuss the violence of the modern state, or of capitalism, separately.[16] This is because when we look at modern states, the two do not exist separately from each other.[17] This position is in line with the prominent anarcho-communist, Peter Kropotkin (1995 [1908], p. 94), who wrote:

[T]he State ... and Capitalism are facts and conceptions which we cannot separate from each other. In the course of history these institutions have developed, supporting and reinforcing each other… They are connected with each other — not as mere accidental co-incidences. They are linked together by the links of cause and effect.

In order to explain this position, I will start by defining what exactly the state is. Here are three definitions, two written from an anarchist point of view (Wolff, 1970; Ward, 1973), the other not. First, Wolff (1970) writes, “the defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule”. The state is, according to Wolff, “a group of persons who have supreme authority within a given territory or over a certain population.” Second, Goodwin (2001, p. 11) writes that the state can be defined as:

…those core administrative, policing and military organizations, more or less coordinated by an executive authority, that extract resources from and administer and rule (through violence if necessary) a territorially defined national society… generally, states claim the right to exercise final and absolute authority (i.e. sovereignty) within national societies.

Third, Ward (1973, p. 24) writes that:

Shorn of the metaphysics with which politicians and philosophers have enveloped it, the state can be defined as a political mechanism using force… [it is] distinguished from all other associations by its exclusive investment with the final power of coercion. And against whom is this final power directed? It is directed at the enemy without, but it is aimed at the subject society within.

The essence of these definitions aligns with Weber and, beforehand, Trotsky (Goodwin, 2001, p. 12), who define the state by its monopoly on the use of violence. This definition is widely accepted, not only by anarchists. It is the fact that the state is at its core defined by the monopoly and use of violence that pacifists should not support it if they truly reject violence.

The combination of these definitions describes a hierarchical structure in which power lies in the hands of a few, allowing them to direct, constrain, and control their populations. They do this in order to reach their objectives. It is vital to recognise that in the modern context, these objectives are underpinned by the perpetuation and success of capitalism. Capitalism is a system of production that produces goods in order to make profit, primarily for the owners of the means of production. A key feature of capitalism is wealth production through exploitation. From this, I assert that capitalism and the state are both responsible for violence. It is capitalism that underpins the structural violence of the modern state. The state itself initially supported capitalism’s birth through direct violence, and now enacts direct violence to assist and perpetuate it. Viewed this way, the state acts as capitalism’s attack-dog, while also propping up capitalism in various ways when it fails, as I will discuss throughout this chapter. In theory, both can be seen to commit violence in their own right. For example, capitalism violently exploits, and the state sends its military to war. However, in reality the two exist together and assist each other. This makes it difficult if not impossible to discuss the violence of each separately, as the state and capitalism exist together.

Weber, while not an anarchist, gave interesting insights into the relationship between capitalism and the state that are aligned with this position. Like Kropotkin, he saw them as intrinsically linked. He suggests that, as summarised by Ingham (2008, p. 33):

A strong bureaucratic state was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the development of rational capitalism. Only under certain historical conditions in which the state was faced with the countervailing power of an independent economic bourgeois class did rational capitalism develop.

Once developed, both capitalism and the state have played supporting roles, each necessary for the other’s survival. Ingham (2008, p. 33) continues:

The subordination of capitalists to the interests of the state would destroy the dynamism of the system; but the converse subordination of the state to the interests of capitalists would lead to excessive, debilitating exploitation and political turmoil.

Weber (1978 [1922], p. 353) described this as the “memorable alliance”. Capitalism and the state have always operated in tandem. Capitalism is focused on wealth accumulation, while the state plays a dual role of clearing the way for capitalism when something gets in its way, and propping it up when it is on the verge of collapse or is not growing by itself. Put simply, a key role of the state is to provide the necessary conditions for capitalist production (Ingham, 2008, pp. 58–59, 181).

An important way that the state supports capitalism is through the use of direct violence, in combination with the judiciary, to maintain private property and access to resources that are needed for capitalist development. For example, it challenges revolutions, it helps to expand markets, and it fills gaps by producing things that are necessary but not traditionally considered profitable, like the building of infrastructure. The most important underpinning factor here is property rights, making it possible for some to own and control while others do not. Without maintaining individual property rights, the whole system fails to function, as the capitalist class no longer controls the means of production, which in turn means that others are not forced to sell their labour.[18]

A simpler way of putting this is that the state creates fences and borders. This creates territories that some people are allowed to exist within while others are excluded. When put this way, the creation of borders around a nation-state and the concept of private property are effectively the same. The border of one and the fences of the other fulfil the same purpose. The borders of the nation-state keep some in and others out in the international arena. Private property within a nation-state gives some the ability to use resources and takes that right away from others. From this perspective, property is, as Proudhon famously announced, theft. This is a theft from the commons: the commons within a state and the commons of the world. It is precisely because some people do not own property, and therefore do not own the resources needed to fully support life, that they must rent themselves for labour. Without this, everyone would be free to use resources and move where they wanted, equally.

Another way the state supports capitalism is through the regulation of markets, as it sets the rules of the game and attempts to correct market failure (Ingham, 2008, p. 59). For example, it bails out major economic players when they are at risk of collapse. This is a necessary mechanism to stop capitalism destroying itself, as capitalism is prone to periods of growth followed by economic crashes and recession. It also ensures that things that are necessary for production but not necessarily or totally profitable, such as infrastructure and healthcare for workers, are created and maintained. Without this, capitalism would almost certainly be unsustainable (Chomsky, 2013, pp. 22–30).

This conception of the capitalist-state seems at odds with the language of neoliberal economics with its emphasis on the free market and small government, but as Weber’s theory would suggest, the market has never been free. Markets have always required regulation by the state (Chomsky, 2013, p. 22; Chang, 2010 pp. 1–10). Chang (2010, p. 3–10) suggests that those who say that markets are free only say so because they approve of the regulations that allow it to function in the way it does, meaning that free market doctrine is political, not scientific. In summary, the state’s key role is to allow capitalism to function, and to maintain the status quo. As this chapter will show, this allows the minority to benefit at the expense of the majority, thus committing various forms of violence.

While I use the term capitalist-state and suggest, as Weber does, that the state and capitalism may be necessary for the survival of each other, I do not make the claim that they have a comfortable relationship. We can see this by observing the change in trends from economic liberalism, to mid-century Keynesianism, through to the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s. Throughout this time, state regulation and ownership of industry has varied greatly (at least within rich Western countries). It is clear that power lies not only in the state, but also in the controllers of capital, “who are accountable to no one, except perhaps a few investors or stockholders” (Robbins, 2008, p. 104). States often have very little power to insist where this capital is used (Robbins, 2008, p. 104).

The rest of this chapter is dedicated to demonstrating the violence of the capitalist-state. By demonstrating the violence of the capitalist-state it will provide the reasoning for pacifists to reject it, becoming anarcho-pacifists. First, I will discuss the direct violence (which results in physical harm or killing) of the capitalist-state. This section is more heavily focused on the actions of the state. Second, I will outline the structural violence, and non-lethal violence (violence that is not intended to kill). This second section is more heavily focused on capitalism and the violence of capitalist production. Finally, I will address the question of whether there can be a “good state”.

The Direct Violence of the Capitalist-State

When the state is defined by its monopoly on violence, this is largely a reference to its direct violence, so that is where I will start. Here, I am referring to the attack-dog role that the state plays, as I mentioned above. However, it is important to note that pre-capitalist states also used direct violence in a similar way. A monopoly on violence means that the state is the only institution that is “legitimately” able to kill to crush challengers to meet its objectives. As this defines the state, other forms of social/political organisation that lack a monopoly on violence cannot be called states. Direct violence is integral to what a state is, and is largely enacted through security forces, the military and police. If people threaten the structure of the state — and therefore the interests of those at the top of the state hierarchy — the state ultimately resorts to physical violence. It also uses physical violence to attack, such as in war, as well as to defend its interests. In short, remove the violence and, by definition, you no longer have a state, but another form of political organisation.

In fact, it was violence that allowed for the state’s creation. Tilly (1975) writes that war led to the formation of the state as elites used the state to raise taxes in order to fund war, a process that has not ended (Chomsky and Barsamian, 2010, pp. 56–57). Some theorists on the state hold that the state is formed by a social contract, rather than by war, but it is clear that non-elites did not get a say in its formation. Their participation and acceptance of the state was involuntarily and their autonomy and land was often taken by force. As Oppenheimer (2007 [1908], p. 8) writes, the state:

…Completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad.Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.

The capitalist-state has not reduced its ability to use direct violence over time. Instead, its capacity for violence has increased due to its ability to gather recourses for violence, including standing armies, assisted by dramatic improvements in technology. The state now has an enormous capacity for killing, as I will demonstrate. If it does not kill, it still has a notable capacity for the control of bodies. It does this outside its own territory and also within, and importantly, it claims the authority to do this; it must be obeyed.

As Colin Ward (1973, p. 24) declares, the state is: “distinguished from all other associations by its exclusive investment with the final power of coercion. And against whom is this final power directed? It is directed at the enemy without, but it is aimed at the subject society within.” This capacity for violence results in the use of violence. Rummel (1997) finds that the more power a state has, the more it kills its own and others citizens. State violence is often used against people in other states, through war and sanctions (Kinna, 2005; Chomsky 2003). States, or the elites within a state, utilise this violent capacity to maintain their power or gain more power. While in a democracy the government may change, any challenge to the fundamental mechanisms or institutions of the state is likely to be met through violence committed by the security forces, regardless of what party is in power. If non-physical coercion fails, violence is used. Anarchists use crisis situations (Kinna, 2005, p. 47) where the state implements a state of emergency to demonstrate state coercion. Here, any kind of democracy goes out the window as the state exerts its will through the violence of its security forces.

Whether to maintain their hegemony, or to continue or increase the accumulation of capital (and to exploit labour and resources), states may choose to accumulate through dispossession, by utilising their militaries (Harvey, 2003, p. 208).[19] This was true in the days of colonialism and is still true today (Chomsky, 2003; Harvey, 2003, pp. 18–25). In the days of colonial armies, states, assisted by racist justifications, committed genocide against indigenous people globally, resulting in millions upon millions of deaths. The direct violence of the state was used to conquer and then allow for the structural violence of exploitation.

This behaviour can be seen throughout the colonial period and can be described as nothing less than horrific and contemptible. Shortly after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, tens of thousands were brutally killed (Churchill, 1993). The British committed numerous mass killings across their empire, from India to Australia (Tharoor, 2017; Mukerjee, 2010; Kiernan, 2002). In Australia, the British killed 20,000 Australian aboriginals in massacres (Kiernan, 2002). In Aotearoa New Zealand, British forces bayonetted the wounded women after the battle of Ōrākau (Ritchie, 2001, p. 32). They also invaded the peaceful settlement of Parihaka, burning it to the ground, raping the women, causing a syphilis outbreak, as they arrested nonviolent resisters (Scott, 1981). There are many examples.

Acts of direct violence, committed, funded and resourced by states, allowed for structural violence as colonies were robbed of their resources. The Belgian colonists worked people in the Congo to extract as much rubber as possible, severing the hands and feet and/or executing millions of Congolese who did not reach their rubber quotas (Renton, Seddon, and Zeilig, 2007). British polices in India led to the deaths of between 30–35 million people as resources were actively diverted to Britain during famine (Tharoor, 2017; Mukerjee, 2010). In fact, British policy led to the destruction of the Indian economy, which pre-colonisation, was responsible for 27 percent of the world’s trade, to a situation where 80% of Indians were living below the poverty line at the moment of independence (Tharoor, 2017). This situation was certainly causing unnecessary death.

These examples of direct violence, as well as the structural violence that bloomed as a result of colonial states, do not get close to doing justice to the full horrors committed by them. However, they paint a pretty clear picture of what states have done and are capable of, and many millions are still dealing with the effects of these policies. Direct violence was used to steal land and resources, and colonised people’s ability to make decisions about their lives was removed and given to the new ruling state. Challenges to this violence were met by further physical violence. In the colonisation process, from Columbus’ arrival in the Americas through to the overthrow of European rule in many colonies in the mid-twentieth century, physical violence was committed by states on a scale that no other event in history can compare to.

In the twenty-first century, the days of direct colonial rule are largely over, although there are still clear examples, such as the continued occupation of Tibet by the Chinese government. However, this change in state behaviour does not mean states have become nonviolent. State controlled militaries are still used in full-scale invasion of other states, with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan being a case in point. States also commit direct violence without “going to war”. An example of this is the USA’s policy of “preventative war” where the state exerts its dominance in various ways to make sure that other states or non-state actors stay in line (Chomsky, 2003, p. 12). While full-scale invasion is not as common as it once was, the use of drones and death squads around the globe, shows that state terrorism is commonplace and all pervasive (Scahill, 2013).

When less powerful states step out of line, they reap the consequences and are put back in their place by strong states. The USA alone has used direct violence to crush challengers in Nicaragua, Chile, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and Indonesia, amongst others (Johnson, 2000; Leech, 2012, p. 33). If they do not intervene directly, they can intervene through supporting opposition groups and supplying them with the means to attempt a coup, such as in Venezuela in 2002 (Harvey, 2003, pp. 8–9). To increase their ability to carry out military interventions and warn potential challengers, hundreds of US military bases are built globally (Chomsky, 2006, p. 11). Many of these violent actions are often justified under a façade of bringing democracy and freedom to those in need (Roy, 2006, p. 75). The result is death, destruction and insecurity for the people who are attacked. Unsurprisingly, violent offensives often result in blowback against the state, resulting in further deaths, and fuel the cycle of violence (Johnson, 2000).

We also see states use violence in their own territory, for example, Assad’s role in the Syrian civil war, which has included the use of chemical weapons. Internal violence is more common than we may think. Many states violently crack down and kill protesters. History is replete with examples, including the Tiananmen Square massacre, shootings in the Arab Spring uprisings, the famous 1957 Hungarian uprising, Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, and even the Kent State shooting in the USA, showing that the violent behaviour has not been confined to dictatorships. In some of the most extreme cases, we see the use of state direct violence for genocide and politicide in the likes of Nazi Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Deaths from police shootings are also clear examples of the use of direct violence by the state.

The examples of the state’s use of military force are fairly easy to see. However, as some of the examples I have mention indicate, it is extremely important to recognise that the state does not only kill in war. Van Den Berge (1992, p. 198), drawing on the research of Harff and Gurr (1987, 1989), writes that, “since world war two, something like three quarters of all fatalities were caused by states butchering their own citizens”. Some may be surprised by Rummel’s (1994, 1997) assertion that – outside of war – 170,000,000 people were murdered by governments from 1900 to 1987. This is four times the number killed in war and revolutions within the same period. He terms this phenomenon democide — murder by government or officials acting under the authority of government or with the approval of higher officials and/or policy. This includes state-caused famines and resulting starvation caused by the likes of the British in India as mentioned above. Another example of state caused famine can be seen in Mao Zedong’s policies in China where the Chinese Communist Party chose to enforce the growing of rice (as opposed to barley, for example), even where rice does not grow (Bartrop and Jacobs, 2014, p. 2017). It was a policy of starvation. Other examples can be found in Russia and Cambodia, and in Britain’s role in multiple famines in India and in Ireland (Tharoor, 2017; Mukerjee, 2010; Coogan, 2012).

Rummel’s statistics include genocide. Bauman (1989) argues that the holocaust was only able to happen due to the way the state removes or detaches unwelcome groups in society. In other words, the modern state holds in it an ability and rationale to commit genocide that was not there before its formation. Best (2013, p. 66) summarises Bauman like this:

There is nothing essentially wrong with foreigners, asylum seekers or people with impairment, but they need to be moved to the appropriate place. If they cannot be moved to the appropriate place the modern state can attempt to assimilate them into wider society, then the state can divide them from the rest of us, by placing them in camps, ghettos or prisons. In the last analysis, what cannot be made clean must be dealt with by other means, if the strangers are seen as dirt and less than human modernity can destroy them. Solid modernity – any modern society — contains the elements needed to generate the mass destruction of people who are seen to be dirty.

Bauman (1989) referred to states that do this as gardening states, using their monopoly on violence to separate flowers from weeds. He says that the Nazi state was the first example of a gardening state. He suggests that the state was not a sufficient condition for the holocaust (Bauman, 1989, p. 13), but a necessary one. On top of this, the factors that made genocide possible in world war two remain today in many states. These include a large bureaucracy that allowed people to play small parts in the genocide. For example, someone may drive a train of people to their deaths and then not taking full responsibility for their actions, instead pointing to other decision makers. The state can lead to conformity. This type of critique is not limited to Nazi Germany. Many see the state as being built on the killing and suppression of minorities (Van Den Berghe, 1992, Nagengast, 1994). This is exemplified by the killings of indigenous people in colonies around the world (Robbins, 2008, p. 121). Modern warfare and genocide have a close relationship (Shaw, 2003).

Van Den Berge (1992) writes that modern nation-states are often ethnocidal and genocidal. As the nation and the state have come to be seen as synonymous, the state became the political organisation of the people of a nation (Van Den Berge, 1992, p. 196). When this happens it leaves no spaces for other nations within a state, who are then suppressed or removed. An example used by Van Den Berge is post-revolutionary France, where the language and traditions of “nations all around the periphery of Ile de France: the Flemings, Bretons, Alsacians, Coricans, Catalans, Occitans, Basques, and others” were supressed (Van Den Berge, 1992, p. 196). We can see that this process is still alive and well, in the Chinese “one China” policy, and in the situation of the Kurds in multiple countries in the Middle East, as well as in Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. We also see this, with arguably less direct violence, in the discourses of many nation-states that show elements of nation-building/killing by reinforcing/creating. The UK government talks of “Britishness” and “British-values”, for example, or in New Zealand in a relatively recent election campaign that called for “Kiwi not Iwi”.[20]

Structural and Non-Lethal State Violence

There are two things that will be clear from what I have written up until this point that I would like to explicitly point out before moving forward. The first is that not all direct violence from the state is intended to be lethal – to kill or maim. This “non-lethal violence” is often the result of structural rather than direct violence. It can also result in death, although this is not necessarily its objective. The second is that there is often an overlap between direct and structural violence, which can make distinguishing between the two difficult. For example, a state-caused famine could be seen as structural violence and as direct violence. Here, the state makes a decision and the direct result of that decision is that people are killed, which is a similar process, for example, to when the state sanctions an execution. However, it is the structure of the state that pulls resources from one place and diverts them elsewhere, or that dictates rules on what can or cannot be grown, meaning it is also a form of structural violence. In this section, I will focus on non-lethal violence perpetrated by the state. This includes direct violence that is not primarily intended to be lethal, as well as structural violence, which is also not primarily intended to be lethal.

Of course, both can be lethal, and in many ways often are. Leech (2012, p. 12, 150) uses the term structural genocide to describe when structural violence results in “death on a mass scale” and states that capitalism causes this with 10 million people dying annually as a result. He also suggests that “hundreds of millions more suffer from non-fatal forms of structural violence”, specifically as a result of capitalism (Leech, 2012, p. 150), a point to which I will return. Leech’s estimates are conservative compared to other estimates that put the annual number of deaths caused by structural violence at close to double that (Galtung and Høivik 1971; Høivik, 1977; Köhler and Alcock, 1976; Gleditsch et al., 2014).

I will briefly address the non-lethal direct violence that is perpetrated by the state before moving on to a discussion of the structural violence of the state. I will do it briefly because non-lethal direct violence committed by the state follows the same logic given above for lethal direct violence. It is to maintain control and exert the will of the state. When states are not directly killing, they can use other forms of non-lethal direct violence such as torture, and the legal system. How closely torture and the legal system are related, clearly varies from state to state, but torture is not only a crime committed by totalitarian states, but also by Western democracies, such as the USA (Rejali, 2007). This is sometimes clear, such as with the example of the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay; at other times, it is hidden. Torture and arrests stigmatise people, create an “other”, and an under-class that nobody else wants to be with (Nagengast, 1994), not to mention the psychological and physical suffering that occurs because of them.

Even if a state does not go to the extreme of torture, the point that I want to make is that the state has an unrivalled ability to remove people’s freedoms — by restricting and damaging their bodies — if people do not act in ways that the state dictates. Those who do not obey the state’s laws will be reprimanded. No other group in society has this ability. States can arrest people and lock them in prison. They also use police to crush any opposition that mounts a significant challenge, as we can see in the Seattle example discussed in the first chapter. Note that it is always the police or army that are seen opposing protestors when there is resistance, whether it is on a small or large scale. Their primary purpose is state (elite) protection. Historically, it is not only challengers to the state’s hegemony, and breakers of the state’s laws, whose bodies are controlled by the state. For example, the slave trade is another clear example of state sanctioned control of bodies.

The example of the slave trade brings me to structural violence, the social injustice coming from social structures (Galtung, 1969). Slavery as a system is a form of structural violence that was again made possible by states. Direct violence towards slaves was an integral part of the slave trade. It was enacted in the kidnapping and beating of slaves, for example. However, it is the economic system that uses slaves, justified by the colour of their skin, that is a manifestation of structural violence. The interrelated nature of structural and cultural violence is an important point because, as will become increasingly clear if it is not already, direct violence is often perpetuated in the name of structural violence – to maintain a violent status quo, to impose authority on others, to dominate and exploit others. Graeber (2006, p. 76) suggests that structural violence is often reinforced and maintained by the threat of force, and that can be seen here. I am going to point out that this is still the case today in a capitalist economic system. It is clear from the discussion of direct violence above that there are various harmful attitudes or incentives that push states to use direct violence. However, structural violence does not always rely on direct violence and can exist by itself.

It can limit people lives without resorting to physically harming or restraining their bodies. Capitalist exploitation does this, albeit with the threat of direct violence supporting it. Cultural violence can help uphold structural violence through stories and norms that make people think that it is “right or at least not wrong” (Galtung, 1990). It is also important to remember, as Galtung (1969, 1990) suggests, that we cannot say one type of violence causes more suffering than another.

All states, including pre-capitalist states, commit structural violence. If we return to the definitions of the state above, the state is defined by its monopoly on the use of direct violence. And who directs this violence? It is elites, be they kings or capitalists. And the fact that there are elites within a state who have great power that allows them to use direct violence tells us further things about the nature of the state. The first is that the state is always a hierarchical organisational structure, where the power rests at the top. As Oppenheimer (2007 [1908], p. 3) writes, “Every state in history was or is a state of classes, a polity of superior and inferior social groups, based upon distinctions either of rank or property. This phenomenon must, then, be called the ‘State’.” Secondly, following on from this, the state is based on inequality, certainly of power and almost certainly of wealth. This denies some, while privileging others. It would be possible to write an historical account of this, but that is beyond the scope of this thesis. I do not wish to discuss how this inequality of power, which privileges some over others, played out in an ancient empire, a feudal city-state, or during the slave trade. I will focus on this privileging of some over others as it exists now, and to do that I must look at how the state interacts with capitalism, and then racism and patriarchy. I will discuss the structural violence that exists in this intersection.

The Role of Capitalism in State Violence

While all states have produced structural violence in three main ways — producing inequality, the privilege of some over others, and through expansion — the exact way in which these things happen under the modern state is solidly tied to and exacerbated by capitalism. Therefore, I will discuss how the capitalist mode of production, with state support, causes structural violence in three ways. These are: first, capitalist relations of production that in and of themselves cause inequality; second, capitalist production puts profit for a few above the needs of the many; third, to make more profits capitalism is expansionary and predatory. Capitalism lays the basis for the process in which the modern-state is a creator of structural violence.

To briefly recap, the state and capitalism, as Weber suggests, are in a co-dependent relationship, with the state acting upon capitalism’s will. This includes the use of direct violence, for example, to crush resistance and the colonial act of invading new territories. However, it goes deeper than that, with the capitalist mode of production itself producing structural violence, with the support of the state regulating markets and “filling the gaps” in terms of providing or assisting with necessary infrastructure, and the like. Capitalist production produces inequalities and is expansionist in its own right, but needs the state to assist with this. This means that the hierarchical nature of the modern-state is not only maintained by the direct violence elites wield through the state apparatus, but also through the logic and force of capitalism.

Marx is an important starting point for understanding how capitalism operates. He observed that under our current mode of production (capitalism) a minority (the bourgeoisie or capitalists) privately own the means of production, such as factories and so forth (Marx, 1981 [1867]; Fine, 2010). Others in society, the proletariat or workers, are forced to sell their labour, effectively renting themselves to the bourgeoisie, in order to survive. They have to do this because they do not have their own means of production, which means that they do not have the means to produce what they need in order to survive and thrive. Under a capitalist mode of production this is how we produce all of the goods that we need (and others we arguably do not need). The workers must produce goods that the capitalist sells. With the money that is made, capitalists pay workers a fraction of the wealth that they produce and keep the rest, surplus value, as profit for themselves. Marx (1959 [1932]) refers to this relationship as the relations of production, and these relations lead to alienation. This is an alienation of the workers from what they produce. They are alienated because the products they make are unaffordable for them. These products are then sent away and sold. Tasks in factories become repetitive and tedious, as the work needed to create a product is split into different tasks in order to make production more efficient, and therefore increase profit, an insight previously noted by Adam Smith (2007 [1776]). These tasks must be done over and over again for many hours. Marx (1959 [1932]) believed that work is essential for wellbeing, but while workers are alienated this is not possible. I will now outline how capitalism leads to inequality, profit over people and expansion.


The description of capitalist production above shows that inequality arises from the very way we produce the things we need, as capitalists get wealthy off of the work of others. That capitalism produces inequality is not only acknowledged by Marxists. Thomas Piketty’s (2014) widely acclaimed book, shows that capitalism increasingly transfers money to the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest, creating more and more inequality. This is because the return of investment for capitalists is vastly higher than economic growth. From the start, even if all people were born equal, this hierarchal system, because of its nature, creates and perpetuates inequalities.

Inequality is a clear form of structural violence as it limits people’s potential. According to Wilkinson and Picket (2010), inequality has a negative effect on wellbeing in and of itself. They find that countries that are more unequal have worse performance in a range of variables that would be considered important for establishing a society that fosters human flourishing. These include: life expectancy; infant mortality; child wellbeing; the amount of mental illness; teenage pregnancy rates; homicide; fighting and bullying among children; imprisonment rates; levels of mutual trust between citizens; maths and literacy attainment; social mobility; the status of women; inventiveness and innovation; waste recycling; spending on foreign aid; and others. Little explanation is needed to explain how this impairs “fundamental human needs” and “lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible” – the definition of violence that is adopted from Galtung in the previous chapter. The logic of capitalism, especially in its current neoliberal form, means that “society should subordinate all other concerns to the interests of big business” (Monbiot, 2001), even if it increases inequality.

Following the financialisation of global capital under Nixon, and neoliberal reforms promoted by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, inequality and its detrimental effects have been on the rise. Neoliberal policies have simply acted as a way for elites to gain a larger share of the surplus value produced by global capitalist production (Leech, 2012, pp. 21–41). Neoliberalism ripped off the Keynesian “Band-Aid” that was stuck to capitalism, which had aimed to mitigate some of capitalism’s negative effects. A report by Oxfam (Hardoon, 2015) demonstrates the level of inequality on a global scale. It concludes that the richest people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half of the world; clearly demonstrating how wealth floats to the top, allowing a tiny minority to accumulate excess wealth, while others do not have enough to sustain themselves. If the aim of an economic system were for social need, wealth would be redistributed, which is clearly not happening within capitalism. Or, at the very least, you would see a percentage of it redistributed. Stiglitz (2012) points out that inequality has now reached the same level as was seen before the great depression. He shows that the difference in inequality in the nineteenth century and in the period post-1980 is that in the nineteenth century wages and living conditions were increasing. This is the opposite to what has been and is still being observed in the neoliberal period. The further we move away from Keynesianism it seems that prosperity created in the post-war era (within neo-colonial Western states) is an exception rather than the trend of capitalism (Graeber, 2014).

A crucial thing to remember here is that it is property rights which, as discussed towards to beginning of this chapter, are upheld by the state, that maintain inequalities. As Leech (2012, p. 27) writes:

the individual and property rights prioritised under liberal democracy – and enforced by the rule of law – do not ensure freedom for all people, but rather maintain the conditions of inequality under which some individuals are free to exploit others.

As soon as one person owns the means of production and the other does not, the gap between worker and owner becomes greater as profits increase, and the opportunity to direct one’s own life becomes easier if you are at the top of the pile and harder if you are at the bottom. This is really the fundamental element that allows capitalism to function, that allows some to have and others not. The nation-state is similarly a cause of division. It traps people where they are with its borders (which were also imposed by world powers in the first place), preventing or making it extremely difficult for people to leave life-hindering situations such as war or famine in search of things that are necessary for survival and necessary for the ability to flourish. State borders, defended by direct violence, maintain global inequality. In relation to capitalism, they prevent people, especially in the global south, from going places where they will get better pay, thus maintaining cheap labour for goods which are exported globally.

Profit over People

As a result of capitalism, goods and services are made and run for profit as opposed to need. Considering this, it is hardly surprising that the needs of many in the world are not met, or are prevented from being met. Resources — physical and human — become commodities to be exploited for profit, even if this has negative consequences on people’s lives. Marx observed that exchange in capitalism is about using money to produce commodities in order to get more money (Ingham, 2008, p. 17; Robbins, 2008, p. 42). This continuous commodification is performed in a “never-ending drive to maximise profits” (Leech, 2012, p. 28). Prioritising profit leads to a fundamental violence of capitalism – it disregards needs. If violence is defined as, by Galtung, “the avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs” which “lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible”, then capitalism is fundamentally at odds with creating peaceful societies, free of violence, where people can flourish. As a result, in many places around the world we can see skyscrapers with slums right next to them, or homeless people on the streets while there are empty buildings. In 2010, the Huffington Post reported that the USA had 3.5 million homeless people and 18.9 million empty homes (Bronson, 2010). While it is possible to solve these problems as the resources are clearly there to be able to build a skyscraper, and we have empty buildings in which people can live, it is not profitable to do so.

This point is demonstrated most clearly by looking at poverty and starvation. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) (FOA, 2015), 795 million people were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. FOA reports from 2009 suggest that we produced more than one and a half times the amount of food needed to feed everyone on the planet, or 10 billion people (Holt-Giménez, Shattuck, Altieri, Herren and Gliessman, 2012). This suggests that it is possible to feed everybody in the world, but again, this is not profitable. Instead, the situation is left as it is – a clear demonstration of large-scale structural violence that leads to the restriction of life. According to Sachs (2005) only 0.7 percent of the combined gross national product of first-world countries would be enough to alleviate extreme poverty. This is surely affordable, but again, does not happen.

Another clear example of the structural violence of capitalism is how it produces environmental destruction, which goes against the needs of all. Capitalism, being the way we produce commodities, is therefore inherently linked to environmental destruction and climate change. Its commodification of the environment is clear, as are the effects. Capitalism has always had negative effects on the environment, including air and river pollution, and outbreaks of disease (Harman, 2010, p. 307, 314) in the pursuit of growth on a planet of finite resources (Leech, 2012, p. 85). This problem has gone from a local to a global issue as time has moved forward. The world now faces major problems related to climate change (Harman, 2010, pp. 308–310), which is, and will increasingly, have a negative impact on peoples’ wellbeing, especially the poorest in the world (Stern Report, 2006, cited in Harman, 2010, p. 309). Global warming is set to reach four to six degrees in the next fifty years, according to Hans Schellnhuber (cited in Klein, 2015), Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: “the difference between two and four degrees is human civilization…”. As of yet, a serious attempt to stop this has not been made. These changes in climate are also making food production increasingly difficult for many of the poorest in the world, at an increasing rate, as well as the imminent threat of land loss in many island states. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates an additional 250,000 deaths per year due to climate change between the years 2030 and 2050 (WHO, 2017). According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), on average, 21.5 million people have been displaced per year from 2008 due to climate change related incidents (Bilak, Cardona-Fox, Ginnetti, Rushing, Scherer, Swain, Walicki, and Yonetani, 2016, p. 8).

The negative environmental consequences of capitalism do not end with global warming. The drive for profit also prevents transitions away from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are essential to much production and change is needed to move away from high carbon-based energy production if we are to avoid catastrophic environmental damage through climate change. Moreover, much has been written on the waste produced by capitalism and continued environmental damage through the use of fossil fuels (Klein, 2014; Harriss-White, 2006, p. 1244). As a by-product of capitalist production, we are also seeing mass deforestation and exhaustion of food and water supplies, all of which is profitable. On top of this, the current species extinction rate is between 1000 and 10000 higher than the natural extinction rate (World Wildlife Fund, 2017).

Capitalism’s perpetual growth for the sake of profit makes this very difficult to challenge within the confines of capitalism (Klein, 2014). As long as the environment is continues to be regarded as a resource to be commodified, exploited, and exhausted; and untouched territories are developed for profit rather than being preserved (Harvey, 2003, p. 135), we will have no change, as the fundamental drivers of climate change are the fundamental drivers of capitalism. Climate talks, such as those in Paris that led to the Paris Accord, do not have these core issues as discussion points on their agenda (Nyberg and Wright, 2015). This, of course, becomes even more problematic when any good that is achieved from the accord is reduced when the world’s biggest polluter, the USA, removes its support.

While states are failing to effectively respond to climate change, market-based solutions within capitalism are showing themselves to be insufficient to create mass change. Increased investment in renewable energy is often presented as a solution, but given that it is not profitable enough, very little changes (Harman, 2010, p. 312), although this may be changing over time. Investment for change that does happen on an individualist model – leading to the production of low energy light bulbs, hybrid cars, and reusable shopping bags, for example — is not going to solve the issues, as they do not begin to balance the pollution and waste made by industry (Jensen and Mcbay, 2011). Companies that are making change, or profit from green industry, are in the minority and cannot rival other industries (Malm, 2016). Even with more investment in green solutions, our reduction in oil consumption, such as through using hybrid cars, means our use of finite resources still continues, only at a slower pace. Destruction is likely to continue as long as it is profitable.

Žižek (2009, p. 19) suggests that the view that environmental catastrophes would end capitalism may be wrong, suggesting that a catastrophe could lead to “reinvigorating it, opening up new and hitherto unheard-of spaces for capitalist investment.” Opportunities for more growth can come from destruction, but for how long is not known. Either way, it is profit that runs the world against the needs of the environment, and the life of the planet.

Finally, a clear example of how capitalism puts profit before need is seen in profit making from war.[21] War, clearly does not put needs first. The death and suffering it produces are undoubtedly violent. War provides an opportunity for growth through the production and sale of weapons, and through rebuilding after destruction. An industry that spends billions of dollars per day is obviously, in a capitalist context, highly profitable. Military spending can also be used to foster a state’s economic growth. This process is termed Military Keynesianism (Custers, 2010). On top of this, the United States alone spends US$75 billion on military research per year (Bircham and Charlton, p. 240). It goes without saying that this could solve many world problems if spent elsewhere. For example, it could end poverty. This spending on weaponry also arguably creates an incentive to use the weapons that are purchased. A large percentage of this weaponry is purchased by states who collect their revenue from taxes. Chomsky and Barsamian (2010, pp. 56–57) note in reference to the invasion of Iraq:

Empires are costly. Running Iraq is not cheap. Somebody’s paying. Somebody’s paying the corporations that destroyed Iraq and the corporations that are rebuilding it. In both cases, they’re getting paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Those are gifts from U.S. taxpayers to U.S. Corporations ... The same tax-payers fund the military-corporate system of weapons manufacturers and technology companies that bombed Iraq ... It’s a transfer of wealth from the general population to narrow sectors of the population.


In order to create more profit, capitalism needs to produce commodities and increase circulation so that these commodities may be consumed (Marx, 2003[1939], p. 407). One factor that is important for increased circulation is the expansion of markets in which commodities can be sold. Thus, capitalism has always expanded. It is important to note, from a Leninist perspective that would be accepted by most leftists, imperial expansion was the natural trajectory for a capitalist economic system. But it is also important to note that imperial expansion was made possible by the state and its military capabilities. This can be seen as the driving reason for colonialism. It has transcended borders and now touches almost all people in the world. The direct violence of the state, as described in the previous section, has been vital in allowing this expansion, and still is. It was vital for creating state territory in the first place and then for invading other countries.

Since the end of world war two, the direct occupation of foreign territories has been much less common. However, as the World Systems Theory suggests, the hierarchical and exploitative relationship between rich states and poor states continues and it is mostly the same states at the top of the pile as it was in the days of the colonial empires, and no nation has transitioned from the third world to the first world since the end of world war two (Wallerstein, 1987; Leech, 2012, p. 40). Capitalist expansion and exploitation did not end with the removal of colonial troops; instead, other mechanisms were put in place that have maintained this hierarchy and the transfer of wealth upwards. As Chalmers Johnson (2000) asserts, what we now call globalisation is what we used to call imperialism. It is also known as neo-colonialism. Graeber (2012, p. 13) writes that the British, as the world’s leading power, “either conquered other nations, or traded with them”. As the USA gained prominence after world war two, it “set-up the world’s first genuinely planetary bureaucratic institutions… The Americans attempted to administer everything and everyone.” Graeber (2012) suggests that in this neo-colonial period, it is primarily through bureaucratic international structures that capitalism maintains its dominance (with physical violence kept as a back-up option).

George (2001, pp. 14–16) lists the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and World Trade Organisation (WTO) as three mechanisms that transnational corporations use to promote their agenda worldwide, setting rules for trade and loans. Trade deals are secured between states through world trade agreements that reduce national sovereignty and give more power to corporations. Powerful states, along with these international institutions, “constitute a ‘liberal’ government at the international level while their regulations serve as the ‘rule of law’ by which national governments must abide” (Leech, 2012, p. 34). The IMF and the WB are, as Monbiot writes (2001, p. 240):

controlled exclusively by the rich nations and work exclusively in the poor nations. They set economic policies for those poor nations and effectively deny the governments of those nations from making a serious attempt at setting their own economic policies – and therefore their own political prescriptions.

They primarily open resources, markets, and access to cheaper labour for corporations (Robbins, 2008, p. 135). As can be seen by Monboit’s quote above, the state is still at the core of enabling capitalism’s expansion, exploitation, and inequality. However, many argue that nations are powerless against global capitalist hierarchy (Jones, 2010, p. 199). Capitalism is a global system, not something practised within an individual nation. Imperialism exists, but how decentralised this new imperial system is, is debated. The likes of Hardt and Negri (2001) argue that it is decentralised, while others argue that the process is being repeated “by the same actors wearing new clothes” (Boron, 2005, p. 12). What is certain is that a hierarchy still exists between nation states, some holding more power over others, and committing more violence on others, while all committing violence on their own citizens to varying degrees. As technology improves, a new “super-poor” class is developing that capital has no use for. They are now “redundant as producers and poverty precludes them as consumers” (Leech, 2012, p. 40). Therefore, the super-poor are irrelevant to capitalism, and states do little to resolve this.

The Role of Racism and Sexism in State Violence

In this chapter, I have given a brief overview of how the capitalist-state can be seen as violent, but missing from this is the fact that the violence of the capitalist-state is racialised and patriarchal. The state’s violence is based on an interaction between the violence of racism, sexism, classism and warism. A key element of structural violence perpetrated by the capitalist-state is that some people face the brunt of the violence described far more than others. Any analysis of statist and/or capitalist violence that fails to point this out is incomplete.

The capitalist-state alone cannot explain patriarchy, and it would be naïve to assume that its removal would necessarily result in the end of patriarchy, but there are significant links. The state is a patriarchal structure, as it is based on “the formal institutionalisation of the separateness of male and female life” (Eisenstein, 2013 [1981], pp. 185–186; Erika, 1986; Connell, 1994). The capitalist class structure and hierarchical sexual structuring in society have a mutually reinforcing relationship (Eisenstein, 1978).

The key point here is that the state is “patriarchal as a matter of concrete social practices” (Connell, 1994, p. 535). Hartmann (2013 [1981], pp. 196–197) notes that “if we examine the characteristics of men as radical feminists describe them – competitive, rationalistic, dominating – they are much like our description of the dominant values of capitalist society.” She illustrates that there are two ways to explain this: (1) working men absorbed the values of the places they work in; (2) men “claim for themselves those characteristics which are valued in the dominant ideology”. Women, as the opposite of these, are viewed as irrational dependants. Men, by doing this, commit patriarchal cultural violence.

Mies (1998, p. 26) writes that while the patriarchal state holds the monopoly on violence, “it left some of it to the individual patriarch in his family. Therefore, rape, for example, cannot become a punishable offence as long as it takes place within marriage”. Here, we see the state being violent by an intentional absence. Here, it does not use its ability to control bodies to prevent the violence of men against women, and it writes the laws that institutionalise this. Many states also impose strict controls over women’s bodies and reproduction (Mies, 1998, p. 186, 222). Many laws in many states have and do make divisions based on sex and rights (Okin, 1998).

Women and men both suffer the effects of capitalism; however, on the whole, women have been in a worse position than men both historically and currently. The state benefits from patriarchy. Mies (1998, p. 38) holds that capitalism “cannot function without patriarchy… the goal of the system, namely the never-ending process of capital accumulation, cannot be achieved unless patriarchal man-woman relations are maintained or newly created.” Women make up a higher percentage of caring jobs – teaching, and in health fields – that are lower paid and valued less within capitalism, with women paid globally on average 60–75% of what men are paid (World Bank, cited by UN Women, 2017). In short, tasks that are viewed as feminine are the same tasks that capitalism sees as less important. These jobs are then “denigrated because women perform them” (Hartman, 2013 [1981], p. 197). So while patriarchy has existed in non-capitalist societies, we can see how capitalism has developed a certain form of patriarchy. Women tend to be lower on the pyramid. They work for less and/or do a higher share of unpaid work that is necessary for capitalist production (Federici, 2012).

Comanne (2010) writes that due to a combination of capitalism needing women to freely consume, and primarily due to two centuries of collective resistance, women in the west now experience considerably better rights. However, “in general women are paid less than men for the same or equivalent work”, and they perform a higher percentage of unpaid informal work (Comanne, 2010, para. 14). Therefore, she argues, capitalism benefits from patriarchy as women fill in necessary positions but capitalists do not have to fund it. The capitalist-state plays a role in organising work and life in a way that is patriarchal. Comanne (2010, para. 15) concludes that “on one hand, the capitalist system feeds on a pre-existing system of oppression – patriarchy – and on the other, it compounds many of its defining characteristics”. She states that where this doesn’t work, when women cannot support themselves financially, the state (if it is a rich one) then props them up through welfare, allowing the exploitative system to continue. It is worth adding that this “propping-up” tends to be as minimal as possible.

In recent years, as neoliberalism has redistributed wealth upwards, it is women who bear the brunt of this, and as Jaggar (2001, pp. 301–304) states, this is particularly true for women of colour who make up a bigger percentage of service sector jobs. Federici (2017) states that despite women entering the workforce, there is now less welfare available, and working-class women’s life expectancy is decreasing with women expected to live five years less than their mothers. Women across the globe still do much more work, especially unpaid work, than men (OECD, 2017). In the last few decades of neoliberal globalisation, the pattern of women doing more unpaid work has changed. In some parts of the Global South “it is primarily women who comprise the new, ‘international, industrial proletariat’ working on the global assembly line” in sweatshops, for example (Parekh and Wilcox, 2014). It should go without saying that this is not really a form of progress; sweatshops, while offering employment, pay little, demand long hours, and offer bad working conditions which sometime result in death, as when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people (Hoskins, 2015). As well as economic injustice, neoliberal globalisation has led to an increase in human rights abuses against women (Jagger, 2001; Okin, 1998).

Capitalism and racism also have a significant relationship; as Malcom X famously stated in a 1964 speech, “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. Racism is entrenched in the capitalist-state (Mills, 2007). Mills demonstrates that:

a contract between those categorized as white over the nonwhites, who are thus the objects rather than the subjects of the agreement… establishes a racial polity, a racial state, and a racial juridical system, where the status of whites and nonwhites is clearly demarcated, whether by law or custom. And the purpose of this state, by contrast with the neutral state of classic contractarianism, is, inter alia, specifically to maintain and reproduce this racial order, securing the privileges and advantages of the full white citizens and maintaining the subordination of nonwhites.

In other words, the capitalist-state has its foundations in racial oppression, and is now a polity that continues to perpetuate the interests of whites over non-whites.

Robinson (2000 [1983]) coined the term racial capitalism to describe the process by which capitalism grew dependent on slavery, genocide and imperialism, and its current structure is based on this. As I have suggested, the nation-states, which remain at the top of this structure, remains the same (Leech, 2012). Racial capitalism is clearly seen in “slave economies, colonial economies, race-ordered divisions of labor” (Thomas, 2013, p. 136). Capitalism and its massive growth, has roots in the slave trade and colonialism that were made possible by and through racism. If it was not for the logic of racism, what Western states did to indigenous peoples around the world would not have been justifiable, “according to the logic of the empire’s own domestic populations” (Ramnath, 2011, p. 25). Other groups were classified as “other”, “inferior”, or “inhuman”, which meant their bodies and their resources could be stolen and/or exploited for profit.

However, the racism of the capitalist-state still exists. Refugees and asylum seekers who are forced to leave their homes in order to search for work, to escape poverty and war – to escape conditions created and maintained by the capitalist-state system — are often blocked at borders (by the state), scapegoated and greeted with hostility. They come from the bottom of the pyramid, and are increasingly blamed as the problem. This is seen more and more frequently with the current resurgence of right-wing political parties, as well as the restrictive immigration policies of many governments across the world. The least safe, worst paid, labour — such as the sweatshop labour mentioned above — is performed by people of colour.

Can there be a “Good State”?

I want to finish by challenging the concept of a “good state”. This is because a key manifestation of cultural violence that helps uphold the capitalist-state as a legitimate form of political organisation is the belief that this inherently violent system can be modified into something nonviolent.[22] If the state is defined by its violence, and violence is inherent to it, then it cannot be reformed. Despite this, most political positions that see problems in state behaviour try to modify it rather than remove it. They want to turn it into a good state – a state that constrains capitalism, for example. Generally, leftist positions that are not anarchist reject capitalism but see the state as a neutral tool. Its leaders may need to be overthrown, but the state structure itself is not seen as a cause of violence. Non-revolutionary liberal views of the state see the state as necessary for peace and a functioning society. If they have concerns about capitalism they see the state system as the means for correcting and controlling capitalism. In other words, the good (taken in this context to mean liberal-democratic) state is seen as the means to prevent the violence of capitalism. While a left-leaning Keynesian-style state, a good state, may see less inequality, this is merely a “Band-aid” approach to solving the inherent problems of the dominant economic and political system described, and does little to rectify issues such as inequality and climate change on a global scale. In terms of direct violence, it operates as above. States function with authority and hierarchy regardless of whether or not they are liberal-democratic states or dictatorships, although one is likely to use more violence than another day to day.

Due to the inherent hierarchical authority in any state, and the inequality in power it produces, a Keynesian or Marxist approach to change is unsatisfactory. Keynesianism simply redistributes some wealth from the top to the bottom but never removes the fundamental violence of the system as described. After the world wars and the great depression, many states imposed the Keynesian “Band-aid” to try and counteract the negative effects of capitalist production. Here, the rich were taxed much more heavily and tax money was pumped into social services and subsidies. It appeared to be a friendly kind of capitalism that led to more equality, at least within white majority Western Nations sitting at the top of a “neo-colonial capitalist system” (Leech, 2012, p. 32). Keynesian policies meant that, “state owned companies… increase the revenues of a national government and help facilitate a moderate redistribution of the national wealth…”, however, “…they are still reliant on success in the global market for survival – and that success requires adhering to the logic of capital” (Leech, 2012, p. 32). The failure of Keynesianism ultimately led to a revival of Smithsonian thought in the form of neoliberalism, which has led to further inequality and has not stopped economic crashes, as was demonstrated in 2007 (Ingham, 2008).

Even the most democratic states do not allow the structures of the capitalist-state that produce violence to be challenged. Elections are about what government runs the state, not about removing the state or allowing groups to cede from it. The first reason for this is that elites, on the whole, cannot be voted out. To quote Chomsky (2011):

Unfortunately, you can’t vote the rascals out, because you never voted them in, in the first place. The corporate executives and the corporation lawyers and so on who overwhelmingly staff the executive, assisted increasingly by a university based mandarin class, remain in power no matter whom you elect.

The same can be said of capitalist production. Therefore, unless there is resistance which produces a political structure that is different to the state, many of the problems described in this chapter persist whether people want them or not. Put simply, the fundamentals of the system are never challenged within liberal democracy, at least not through official channels, and the majority of power lies with elites.

Marx knew that capitalism had to be removed in order to create a more equal world and that a communist society would be stateless, thus recognising the problems of the state. However, Marx conceptualises the state as “a reflection of bourgeois class domination, an institution whose structure is determined by capitalist relations” (Newman, 2004, pp. 7–8) and “its function is to maintain an economic and social order that allows the bourgeoisie to continue to exploit the proletariat”. From his point of view, after the revolution the state would simply “wither-away”. There is no evidence for this process, and in fact, most revolutions over the last one hundred years changed political leadership but did not substantially change the structures (Skocpol, 1979). The state has its own locus of power (Newman, 2004, p. 10), and thus perpetuates itself.

Those who are sympathetic to the state will view this characterisation of all states, in the way that I have described, as an over-simplification. There are multiple, and I might add understandable, reasons for this (Llewellyn, 2014, p. 40–41). First, many states fund and subsidise services to people. Second, in many states, people have access to at least some institutional channels which allow them to challenge the state’s decisions and processes. Third, as Goodwin (2001, p. 11) writes, he “make[s] no assumption… that states are unitary actors that are not themselves potentially driven by conflicts of interest, identity, and vision”. In other words, it is true that some of the objectives of different state institutions will sometimes be inconsistent, and these institutions may oppose each other. Finally, states can be constrained by other institutions like religious groups or the military.

A response to this is that the positive roles that the state plays in society, for example, welfare and healthcare, infrastructure and coordination, can transpire and function more effectively without a state. Workers can run industry, for example, because they already do. The state and capitalism are viewed as things we can live without, making anarcho-pacifism the antithesis of the Hobbesian worldview. According to anarchism, humans are capable of cooperatively organising without the state and in fact, this is seen to be how human beings are able to survive and thrive (Kropotkin, 2012 [1902]). This is often done spontaneously, and in a way that is more efficient in meeting a given community’s needs, as well as being more empowering and creative for the people involved (Ward, 1973). Ward (1973, p. 39) describes this nicely as he elaborates on Proudhon’s proclamation that “anarchy is order”:

There is an order imposed by terror, there is an order enforced by bureaucracy (with the policeman in the corridor) and there is an order which evolves spontaneously from the fact that we are gregarious animals capable of shaping our own destiny. When the first two are absent, the third, as infinitely more human and humane form of order has an opportunity to emerge. Liberty as Proudhon said, is the mother, not the daughter of order.

Healthcare and welfare are seen by many as flowers that have only bloomed due to the capitalist-state, but they are not its primary function, and it did not create them (Ward, 1973). In many cases, they exist to stop the system collapsing, and they were introduced not because the state cares for people, but because of the resistance of people’s movements. The state’s role is primarily to allow economic growth, which benefits some at the expense of others.


The purpose of this chapter has been to demonstrate that the state is a fundamentally violent actor. The chapter is by no means comprehensive or definitive but I hope that it at least provides an overview of the direct and structural violence that the capitalist-state is complicit in.[23] The state kills, lets die, and prevents what would otherwise be possible in people’s lives, on a mass scale. It prevents hedonic happiness for many, let alone eudaimonia, and therefore it is counter to human flourishing.[24] Based upon this, my argument is simple: pacifists who claim to reject the use of violence should reject the state. They would then become anarcho-pacifists, living up to their claim to reject violent politics.

If the capitalist-state is viewed as inherently violent, it cannot be reformed into a “good state”. To create peace, to allow people to flourish, a revolutionary change is needed which will likely involve experimentation in new ways of being that are nonviolent. This leads me onto the next chapter, in which I will argue for the adoption of nonviolence as a means to create peace. In this next chapter, I will challenge the idea that violence is a tool for creating positive change, and as part of this, I will discuss the nature of the violent act itself.

Chapter Three: From Anarchism to Pacifism and the Rejection of Revolutionary Violence

The greater the violence, the weaker the revolution, even where violence has deliberately been put at the service of the revolution.

– Bart de Ligt (1989 [1938], p. 75)

If anarchists distrust political fictions that justify the denial of actual freedoms, they must distrust more a style of thinking which justifies the most final denial of freedom—death.

— April Carter (1978, p. 328)

You can’t expect to grow apples by planting corn or pumpkins or bananas.

— Lama Zopa Rinpoche (2008, p. 88)

In the previous chapter, I put an argument to pacifists, suggesting that they must become anarchists if they genuinely reject violence. The chapter focused on highlighting the direct and structural violence perpetuated by the capitalist-state, with the conclusion being that the capitalist-state cannot be seen as a mechanism of peace, but instead needs to be seen as a major instigator of violence.

In this chapter, I will put an argument to anarchists, suggesting that they should become pacifists. The argument is that direct (physical) violence must be rejected as a means of politics and revolution or social transformation if we are to create a nonviolent society: a society of human flourishing.[25] Unlike pacifism, anarchism rejects the capitalist-state. It sees that “violence is being inflicted, and the question is about how, not whether to fight it” (Frazer and Hutchings, 2016, p. 19). Many proponents of anarchism have said that this fight will be violent. Here, I will specifically focus on outlining and challenging common justifications for revolutionary violence that have been put forward by anarchist theorists and activists. While doing this, I will propose that anarchists should fight violence with revolutionary nonviolence, rather than revolutionary violence, as this is more likely to achieve actual revolutionary change and is more consistent with anarchist principles. I argue that anarchist arguments that advocate violence are logically invalidated and practically anti-factual.

This chapter will be structured in a way that allows me to move from addressing practical and tangible issues, through to assumptions and worldviews that are less based on practicality. First, I will argue that the act of physical violence is incompatible with anarchism’s core anti-domination and anti-exploitation principles. Second, I will highlight and challenge key justifications for the use of revolutionary violence within the anarchist tradition. These are interrelated arguments about the necessity of violence to create revolution, and the belief that revolutionary violence is inspiring and virtuous. Finally, I will challenge the argument that violence is justified if it reaches a desired end. I will do this last, as the assumption that means and ends can be separated underpins the previous excuses for violence. This will lead to my conclusion that the use of violence for revolution is counter-productive and contrary to core anarchist principles and anarchist visions of peace. Thus, my conclusion is that anarchists, if they have not already, should logically, and in order to maintain consistency, adopt pacifism.

An Act of Violence is an Act of Domination

That the capitalist-state runs counter to a vision of peace that is defined by human flourishing, is far from being a controversial point for anarchists. It could even be seen as an essential point of anarchist thought, with anarchism often being defined by its opposition to the state. This rejection of the state includes a rejection of the state’s ability to break bodies. To kill an other, or even to restrict the movement of an other’s body (for example, through imprisonment), or to hurt non-fatally (such as through torture or physical abuse), is contrary to anarchist ideals. This is because to harm or restrict another’s body inherently involves an authoritarian relationship where one dominates the other. To enact physical violence against a person is the antithesis of supporting their flourishing.

Anarchists accept this logic when opposing the state. I quote Carter (1978, p. 327): “No anarchist society would sanction one execution, let alone mass executions or wars on other societies.” However, many anarchists have found ways to justify violence – specifically, killing — for revolution. Revolutionary violence is about enacting physical violence and therefore destroying, or attempting to destroy, bodies in order to create social change.[26] Whether it results in war or not, it holds the same logic of war; a logic where each side tries to out-injure each other (Scarry, 1987, p. 89). Having said this, many anarchists have also opposed violence, or at least certain types of violence, in a debate that goes back to at least the First International.[27]

In the First International, Mikhail Bakunin opposed Karl Marx’s position on the state, but like Marx he saw violence as a necessary part of revolution. This was in opposition to the position on violence taken by earlier influential anarchist theorists such as Proudhon. Since Bakunin, we can identify two main camps of anarchists, with some rejecting violence and others accepting or advocating for it. In the acceptance camp, some reluctantly accept violence while others actively promote it, and some only accept certain forms of physical violence. On top of this, some accept all violence and others do not. There are three violent tactics that are commonly associated with anarchism. One is guerrilla warfare, which is mostly linked to Nestor Makhno. Another is propaganda by the deed, as opposed to by the word. Here, individuals or small groups perform acts (that in practice have most often been violent) in order to spark an uprising. Some also advocate for violent defence of a strike or a territory. Other anarchist tactics could be either violent or nonviolent: the general strike is itself a nonviolent act but if supported by organised violence then it is not. Any kind of anarchist community building such as experiments in direct democracy, or any acts that aim to enact or simulate the future anarchist society, are commonly nonviolent. This is because, as I have suggested and will build upon shortly, the flourishing anarchist society cannot be conceptualized as one that produces and perpetuates violence or else it is not anarchist. In the rejection of violence camp, some dedicate much of their writing and action to opposing violence and others do not.

We can put some key anarchist figures into each of the two camps, remembering that each figure arrived at their conclusions in different ways and in different contexts. For example, Bakunin and Makhno saw violence as an absolute necessity, as liberating, with the latter leading the Black Army in Russia’s civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution. Emma Goldman, Errico Malatesta and Peter Kropotkin are examples of those who saw violence as an unfortunate necessity. They hold the same position as Bakunin and Makhno, but their writing about violence often has less conviction. They seem to criticise violence, possibly suggesting that they had a fuller awareness/acceptance of the relationship between the means and ends of action. On the other side, we see those who outright reject violence: Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Bart de Ligt and Paul Goodman are examples. These categories are possibily oversimplified; it must be noted that even though the likes of Bakunin were in favour of civil war, they still saw violence as problematic, and most anarchists who accept violence, including all of the above, do so because they see it as a necessity (Frazer and Hutchings, 2016).

Anarchists do not always justify revolutionary violence in the same way as some other revolutionary positions do. Claims of psychological liberation from committing violence, like Fanon (2001 [1961]), or the comradely development that comes from the act of violence, like Sorel (1999 [1908]), are shied away from or rejected, at least by key theorists such as the ones mentioned. Most reject terrorism as an effective method. Having said this, some, notably Goldman, rejected terrorism but have expressed sympathy with revolutionaries who have used terrorist tactics (Bennett, 2017). Nor do the key anarchist theorists accept arguments of revenge or retaliation (Frazer and Hutchings, 2016, p. 13). Anarchists want a nonviolent society, and indeed, see that a society based on mutual aid is what will naturally exist if violent authority is removed (Kropotkin, 2012 [1902]).

From the point of view of anarcho-pacifism, justifications for revolutionary violence are excuses used to overcome the chasm that exists between the anarchist position against authoritarianism and domination that underpins anarchism, and the want to justify violence for revolution. The two most common excuses are: (1) some argue that violence is a necessary method to create change; (2) others claim that acts of violence are inspirational, a trigger to spark revolution, and this is connected to arguments about violence being brave and virtuous. Both of these are underpinned by an idea that if the end is just, violence is justified.

Before I address each of these excuses, I must elaborate on my point of how violence is by nature a form of domination and therefore anti-anarchist. This is important because when violence is discussed as an option of political action it is often done in an abstract way. If the argument for pacifism is to be fully understood and engaged with by anarchists, violence must be discussed for what it is: dominating in the extreme, pain inducing, earth-shattering, and an instigator of extreme mental and physical suffering (Scarry, 1987). Violence abolishes people’s rights entirely and it always destroys rather than builds (Swarup, 2016, p. 303). It is the ultimate form of violation (note that the root of the word is the same, from the latin violare).

If we return to McLaughlin’s definitions of authority and domination used in Chapter One, authority “is a normative power claimed and exercised by A, and recognized and submitted to by B”. As I have said, this is violent when it leads to domination and/or exploitation because domination and/or exploitation limit peoples lives and therefore prevent human flourishing. Mclaughlin (2007, pp. 47–48) defines domination as “the capacity of one party to exercise control over another party” and exploitation as “the capacity of one party to gain materially through the efforts of another party, and at the latter’s expense.” Vinthagen (2015, p. 30) writes that Gandhi saw exploitation as the “core of violence”; violence is chiefly about profiteering. The rejection of violent authority is the basis of anarchist philosophy and the basis of the rejection of the state, as the state is dominating and exploitative in nature.

When somebody deliberately kills an other we see domination in the extreme. Revolutionary violence kills those in the way of the revolution, be it capitalists/elites or those who are recruited to fight for capitalists/elites, or “collateral damage”. It is domination in the extreme because it exercises control in a way that there is absolutely no coming back from for the victim. It is, as Kant proposes, irreversible and it obliterates the victim’s dignity (Avram, 2016). This means that it totally removes the other’s ability to flourish permanently. This is authoritarian, as the perpetrator uses their power to inflict death and/or suffering on the other, who does not want this and also has no say in the action. As the act of killing, or we should say murder, is for the revolution, the death of the other is exploitative. By removing the other’s existence, the so-called revolutionaries gain from death, taking what they want. They are instrumentalising human bodies, which is a form of dehumanisation.

Killing goes against anarchist ideals on an individual and on a societal level. From this analysis, the act of killing goes against anarchist ideals on an individual level because it is the ultimate form of domination of one person over another. May (2015, p. 52) writes, “physical violence certainly does not recognise that the victim has a life to lead. It treats the other simply as an object of one’s anger or one’s purposes”. He continues, saying that violence disrespects the other, humiliates them and leaves psychological scars. It inflicts fear, if not death. This is true whether it is the revolutionary killing the capitalist or the capitalist’s mercenaries, or if it is any death by order of the state. On a societal level, killing is also the opposite of the anarchist ideal. War of any kind harms the majority and rarely achieves its aims (Bickerton, 2011). It harms most obviously through killing, but also through the psychological trauma caused by those who see or experience violence, and also those who commit violence (Grossman, 2009). It also harms by destroying infrastructure, the roads and hospitals needed to help those who are injured and bring in supplies that are necessary for life. Rather than fostering flourishing, violence though war (revolutionary or not) leads to insecurity in a way that no other human produced event can. In a review of medical research on war, Murthy and Lakshminarayana (2006, p. 25) demonstrate the effects of war, which are clearly opposed to anarchist visions of peace, as defined in Chapter One. They find that:

War has a catastrophic effect on the health and well being of nations. Studies have shown that conflict situations cause more mortality and disability than any major disease. War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital. Death as a result of wars is simply the “tip of the iceberg”. Other consequences… include endemic poverty, malnutrition, disability, economic/social decline and psychosocial illness, to mention only a few.

In short, killing violates the libertarian values of anarchism by violating life, and it betrays the communal values of anarchism by destroying communities.[28] At this point, I think it important to state exactly what the act of violence does to an other. This is because discussions of violence are almost always abstracted, possibly because the reality of violence is so unbearable. Scarry (1987, pp. 63–64) tells us that:

The main purpose and outcome of war is injuring. Though this fact is too self-evident and massive to ever directly be contested, it can be indirectly contested and disappear from view by simply being omitted: one can read many pages of a historic or strategic account of a particular military campaign, or listen to many successive instalments in a newscast narrative of events in a contemporary war, without encountering the acknowledgement that the purpose of the event described is to alter (to burn, to blast, to shell, to cut) human tissue, as well as to alter the surface, shape, and deep entirety of the objects that human beings recognize as extensions of themselves.[29]

And of course, for the injured, the experience of injury is one of pain. As Scarry (1987) demonstrates, is earthshattering, and torture and war use this injury, this pain, to give power to those committing it. Pain is literally inexpressible. It destroys language, reducing those experiencing it to the cries and moans we may hear from a child before they can use language (Scarry, 1987, p. 4). The consequences of direct violence are horrific, and no anarchist advocating for revolutionary violence really looks at the nature of violence in these terms. For any anarchist (or, for that matter anyone else) who commits themself to a path of revolutionary violence, these realities are not far away. They are not theoretical; they are not captured in tragic statistics about people suffering in far way places. To commit to violence to achieve your aims, means to cause injury, cause pain, that leaves the person you commit violence towards, if you do not end their life instantly, in a state of suffering so severe that they are reduced to cries and moans; where their bodies are maimed, mangled, bleeding and broken; where they have no dignity and no hope. In the aftermath of organised killing, the perpetrators and recipients of violence regularly experience post-traumatic stress disorder, intense feelings of fear and guilt that can lead to suicide and substance abuse (Hoge, Auchterlonie and Milliken, 2006; Hoge, Castra and Messer, 2004; Jordan, Schlenger and Hough, 1991; Prigerson, Maciejewski and Rosenheck, 2002; Prigerson, Maciejewski and Rosenheck, 2001; Iowa Persian Gulf Study Group, 1997). Anyone who advocates physical harm as a method must ask themselves: can I do this to another human being and watch their suffering, the effect of my action? Can I do this to somebody and as they lie in front of me, claim that I am just, and claim that I am removing domination? Can I face the people who love this person afterwards? And finally, could I look at the person lying in front of me and honestly say that I can see the birth of the new just society I seek being born out of it?

So far, I have described the nature of revolutionary violence, in the individual acts of direct violence, each incidence of injury, as inherently dominating and an inherently horrific and painful action. There is also a deeper problem with the choice to use revolutionary violence in an attempt to make a peaceful society. To launch a revolution based on the use of killing and injury as its primary strategy is to make change by removing challengers rather than finding ways for people to live cooperatively, and without domination and exploitation. Removing those we disagree with, as a method of dealing with conflict, is not peaceful. In this way, revolutionary violence is mimetic (Evans, 2009; Girard, 1977). Rather than the state killing to gain for itself (its elites) and remove challengers, the revolutionary kills to gain what they want and remove challengers. Revolutionary violence creates no change in human relationship, no shift towards or enhancement of human cooperation, no new way of political action or conflict resolution. There is only a repaying of death with death. The death inflicted by the revolutionary is only turning the coin, deflecting the violence back in the opposite direction. This reifies sovereign power as the dominant mode (Bloom, 2017).

The logic of this for the revolutionary, when carried to its extreme, is that of Pol Pot: the elimination of all challengers and all potential challengers, rather than the changing of social relationships. This is problematic, because the state is no more than a set of relationships between people. It “is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour” (Landauer, 2010 [1910]). Remove the state by continuing the same behaviours and logic, and what happens? As will be discussed below, the likelihood is more violence in all of its forms. In this sense, revolutionary violence is conservative, it is reactionary, it is anti-revolutionary. It is a continuation of violence rather than the birth of nonviolence, of flourishing. This is not laying the foundation of an anarchist society. It simply lays the foundation of the same behaviour as the state. Mimetic physical violence lays the ground for a mimetic society based on violence.

To justify killing as a revolutionary method one must remove each individuals’ and groups’ right to life and flourishing. To allow this, revolutionaries have to label themselves as supremely virtuous in comparison to the contemptible other. This paves the way for the justification of the killing of this contemptible other (Carter, 1978, pp. 327–328). In other words, to justify revolutionary violence, the anarchist has to create an image of the other that opposes their own ideology. This is not only true for revolutionaries. Soldiers have to be trained to murder others (Grossman, 2009). To delete the other is to not accept difference, which is to reject anarchism.

Evans (2009) argues that to have a revolution without violence, one must be able to accept and even embrace difference. This would be a basic tenet of any society that does not experience domination. We could phrase this as we must learn to relate to each other differently. As Landauer (2010 [1910]) writes:

We destroy [the state] it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.[30]

Evans suggests that this embracing of difference should be the “first task” for the revolutionary, as it does not put the other in a place that is second to self. He says that this lays the basis for “non-violent ethical relations”. Of course, there are anarchists who accept this logic. Evans (2009, p. 93) himself points to the Zapatista’s pursuit of nonviolence in the more recent years of the Zapatista movement. Evan’s finishes his article by quoting Subcommandate Marcos, a key representative of the Zapatista movement, who can be described as an anarchist. I will quote the same quote here as it eloquently demonstrates the point being made. This point is that anarchism seeks for a world where people accept other’s otherness, not where they eliminate them:

We are “other” and different … we are fighting in order to continue being “other” and different. … And what we are—far from wanting to impose its being in the “other” or different—seeks its own space, and, at the same time, a space of meeting … that is why Power has its armies and police, to force those who are “other” and different to be the same and identical. But the “other” and different are not looking for everyone to be like they are. … The “everyone doing his own thing” is both an affirmation of difference, and it is a respect for other difference. [Thus] When we say we are fighting for respect for our different and “other” selves, that includes fighting for respect for those who are also “other” and different, who are not like ourselves.

My argument is that by eliminating otherness, even the otherness of oppressors, we are dealing with our problems in a fundamentally non-anarchist way. It would be naïve to think that after an anarchist revolution that groups would cease to have competing interests. However, if we delete otherness through physical violence during an anarchist revolution, why would we not just do it again, and again after the revolution? Why would deleting elites create a society of people who behave like anarchists, by respecting the other’s right to life, dignity, and flourishing? To summarise, before moving on to challenging the various anarchist excuses for violence, I will quote Evans and Giroux (2015, p. 222), who while not writing specifically about revolutionary violence, have an argument that still applies to this discussion:

…if politics in the age of the spectacle is to perpetuate forms of violence on account of the fact that they are integral to our ways of thinking and acting in this world, our task is to offer a fundamental reconceptualization of the political itself. Such a task requires rethinking the meaning of resistance so that we don’t get caught up in some mimetic rivalry. It also means breaking out of friend/enemy distinctions and the politics as survival narrative that colonises explanations of the human condition.

To do this means there needs to be a fundamental rethink of politics towards a nonviolent, and likely agonistic, politics of peace (Mantena, 2012; Shinko, 2008).[31]

Excuses for Revolutionary Violence and Reasons to Dismiss Them

The argument that violence is opposed to anarchism should not be controversial. In fact, many examples can be found of anarchists accepting this, even if they have not gone so far as adopting pacifism. In the Anarchist FAQ (2017) they write:

The attraction of pacifism to anarchists is clear. Violence is authoritarian and coercive, and so its use does contradict anarchist principles.[32]

But then they continue, outlining the pro-violence anarchist position that I hope this chapter will show is nonsensical:

Anarchists who are pure pacifists are rare. Most accept the use of violence as a necessary evil and advocate minimising its use. All agree that a revolution which institutionalises violence will just recreate the state in a new form.

So, following this logic, why not reject violence? There are two common excuses, or maybe a better word is “myths” that are used by anarchists to overcome the contradictory nature between anarchism and violence: (1) violence is necessary; (2) violence is inspirational. I use the word excuse rather than argument because there is a recognition within anarchism that violence contradicts anarchist ideals. I will now explain and problematise both excuses, before challenging their underpinning assumption, namely, that you can justify revolutionary violence if the end is just.

Excuse One: Violence as Necessary

Malatesta (1921) wrote:

It is our aspiration and our aim that everyone should become socially conscious and effective; but to achieve this end, it is necessary to provide all with the means of life and for development, and it is therefore necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies these means to the workers.

This is a legitimist argument as violence is justified as a tool to break an illegitimate order (Alomes, 2012, p. 60). It is quite simple to answer this argument. If it can be shown that there are alternatives to violence that can lead to success, then the argument that violence is necessary is nullified. Remember, here I challenge violence, but not force. Nonviolence is forceful, as I will show below, and does not deny that force is needed to create dramatic social transformation.

An even stronger argument against the necessity of violence could be made if these alternatives proved to be more successful than violence. This is exactly what nonviolent resistance movements have been showing us over the last century since Gandhi’s demonstrations of mass nonviolent struggle. Over the last decade, a lot of research has been produced which backs this up, which I will now outline. To be fair to many of the anarchist theorists who expounded the view that violence was a necessity did so before many large nonviolent movements took place. However, now it is time that anarchists who do not already take recent experiences of nonviolence seriously to start to engage with the evidence.

Nonviolent resistance campaigns with large goals, such as overthrowing a government or secession, have been twice as successful at achieving their aims than violent movements in the years between 1900 and 2006 (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011). These are movements that are confrontational and they work outside of institutional political channels (Ibid, p. 12). The nonviolent campaigns in this period were successful 53% of the time compared to the 26% success rate of violent campaigns. On top of this, after nonviolent revolution there is much less chance of war occurring within ten years following the revolution (Ibid, p. 202). Further still, there are higher levels of democracy experienced after nonviolent revolution compared to violent revolution (Teorell, 2010; Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005; Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011). The democracy achieved also lasts longer (Bayer, Bethke and Lambach, 2016). While the definition of democracy used here does not live up to the standards of anarchist definitions of democracy, this finding still suggests a much stronger turn away from authoritarianism after nonviolent revolution than after a violent revolution. The outcome of nonviolent movements is more often than not to decentralise rather than centralise power (Schock, 2013, p. 285), making it a better fit with anarchist principles. In comparison, violence often “strengthen[s] hierarchy and decrease[s] diversity on the dissident side, as nonconformists are purged or marginalized” (Celstino and Gleditsch, 2013, p. 391), which suggests that the killing is likely to continue after violent revolution. On top of this, Chenoweth and Stephan (2011, p. 202) find that even failed nonviolence movements have more success in increasing democracy and reducing violence than successful violent movements.

In addition to these findings, Chenoweth and Schock (2015) provide evidence that radical flanks (violent) hinder nonviolent movements. This challenges the idea that revolutionaries should use a diversity of tactics. The idea of diversity of tactics is basically that we should use all the methods of struggle at our disposal in order to produce change. Chenoweth and Schock (2015) find that movements which use nonviolent and violent tactics are less successful than nonviolent movements, but more successful than violent movements in the measures mentioned above. In other words, a diversity of tactics seems to undermine nonviolent movements rather than help the movement achieve its goals.

What this evidence shows us is that violence is not necessary to undermine the power of elites and remove their power. There are explanations as to why this may be, and some of these will be covered shortly. However, what I want to point out here is that revolutions can be achieved without killing, without the psychological trauma of war, and without damage to the vital infrastructure needed by society. Moreover, there is the added advantage that if nonviolence goes wrong, the costs it creates are reversible.[33]

A criticism that may be voiced by anarchists in response to these findings is that many of these nonviolent revolutions are not anarchist revolutions. This is true, as there have been very few anarchist or for that matter leftist revolutions, and most which have occurred, have not resulted in long-lasting alternatives to the capitalist-state (Skocpol, 1979). Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) and Sharp’s (1973; 2011) work, along with much other civil resistance scholarship, does not aim for an overthrow of capitalism or the state, but is instead either: (1) focused on the creation of liberal democracies after removing dictatorships; or (2) is ambivalent towards the structure of post-revolution societies. As a result, there has been little discussion within civil resistance scholarship of the various forms of violence that are created after many nonviolent uprisings. For example, many nonviolent revolutions have paved the way for new governments to instigate neoliberal reforms, which have had detrimental societal effects (Chabot and Sharifi, 2013). This problem, which stems out of the pragmatic nonviolence research and theory, is not present in all forms of nonviolence. A good example is Gandhian nonviolence, which aims for decolonisation, the decentralisation of power, a focus on human need rather than profit, and the creation of alternatives to the direct violence of the state, as well as seeking the overthrow of governments, as I discuss in the second half of this thesis.

While this is true, it does not mean that the findings should be rejected. Research findings on nonviolence suggest that nonviolence is more successful at undermining the power of elites with less violent/authoritarian outcomes than when violence is used to generate change. This is empirical evidence that runs contrary to Gelderloos’ (2007) suggestion that nonviolence supports the state.[34] It shows us that nonviolence has a much more successful historical record of undermining the state’s power. It shows that the argument that because violence is all-pervasive we must use violence is simply wrong (part of Gelderloos’ argument, 2007 and 2013) and that to deny violence does not mean to accept the exploitation of elites.[35]

Nonviolence works by undermining the power of elites. We could say that nonviolence recognises true power because it recognises the relationship between consent and power. Sharp’s theory of power, derived from the theories of Etienne de La Boetie, Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi, is that elites can only maintain their power through the consent of various people and groups who do what they are told. Elites have control when subjects cooperate and are obedient; when they recognise the authority of elites. When people stop doing what they are told, elites no longer have power. In this way, power is pluralistic not monolithic (Sharp, 1973, p. 9).[36] This may seem counterintuitive, as it is often accepted that the person, group or state that can exert the most force through violence is the most powerful and that power is only ever top-down rather than bottom-up. The theory of pluralistic power fits nicely with anarchist theory as it shows a way in which anarchists can overthrow elites without having to take control of the state.[37]

The pillars of support theory (Helvey, 2004) is often used to elaborate on the pluralistic model of power. Any government/state is held up by pillars that fulfil different roles that allow it to function. These pillars include the police, the army, civil servants, workers, the media, and the tax system, communication systems, and transport systems, amongst others. Using nonviolent methods, the pillars can be made to crumble, or be pulled over to the side of the revolutionaries. When this happens, the government/elites simply fall down as the system no longer functions. Sharp (1973) has written a list of 198 nonviolent methods that have been used to achieve this (see Appendix One). These methods are split into the three categories of protest and persuasion, non-cooperation (social, economic and political), and intervention.

Another objection may be that nonviolent action is still coercive and is therefore violent. It is true that coercion may be necessary to generate force; however, coercion does not have to be violent. As mentioned previously, May (2015, pp. 49–55) writes that coercion does remove autonomy; however, it can be done without removing the opponent’s dignity, and this is essential for coercive action to be nonviolent. In other words, it does limit others’ actions; actions which are limiting the majority’s opportunity to flourish. However, it does not seek to humiliate them or restrict their ability to live with others and have equal opportunity and support, and does not restrict them from leading meaningful lives. By recognising and respecting the others’ dignity, nonviolent protestors do not dominate, exploit or hold authority over, and therefore do not create structural violence. They exert no power-over the other.[38] By not physically or psychologically harming others, protestors do not cause direct violence. Clearly, by not promoting any discourses that allow either of these, there is no dissemination of cultural violence. The nonviolent coercion of which Todd is speaking does not violate the other’s right to life, to live without pain, to be happy. The aim is not to attack or kill anyone, but to transform relationships.[39] Principled nonviolent actions, such as Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaigns, show this to be possible; as do many pragmatic nonviolence movements in fact, even if respecting dignity is not an explicit part of their theory. A great example is the approach of OTPOR in Serbia, especially in their dealings with Milosevic’s security forces, that labelled students as victims in blue jeans and the police as victims in blue uniforms (Popovic interviewed in Arrow, 2011).

Another response from anarchists could be that while nonviolence may be about to create a revolution, violence is necessary for defence of a territory. There are examples of nonviolent defence, which while they have not often been practiced, offer much hope. Nonviolent intervention groups have had many successes with groups like the Nonviolent Peaceforce (Furnari, Oldenhuis, and Julian 2015) and with Gandhian Shanti Sena (Weber, 1996). Civilian-based defence (Sharp, 1990; Bartkowski, 2015) shows us how any invading army still needs consent in order to rule, and can therefore be resisted nonviolently in a way not dissimilar to Sharp’s model of nonviolent resistance. While saying that, all anarchists would agree that the capitalist-state needs to be removed in its entirety or it will continue to pose a threat to any alternatives to capitalism or anarchist territories.

There are reasons to think that the argument that violence is an obvious choice for defence is a fallacy, especially in modern times. First, violent defence has not worked for anarchism in the past; in the Paris commune, in the Free Territory in Ukraine, in Anarchist Catalonia. All defended with violence and all were ultimately crushed. I am not suggesting that if they had used nonviolence that this would not have happened; that is unknown. I am simply pointing out that violence did not work. Second, the modern-capitalist state is now more militarily equipped than at any other point in history. It also has far superior surveillance than ever before. My point here is that even if you want to defend violently, the odds are against you and you are challenging the state at what it does best, better than it ever has before. Strategically, it is a naïve choice.

As outlined in the last chapter, the state is defined by its monopoly on violence and was born in violence (Weber, 2009 [1919]; Tilly, 1975; Oppenheimer, 2007 [1908]; Van De Berge, 1992). Violence is the core of its being. For revolutionaries to fight the modern-state, even if they could get hold of weapons, would be like an amateur Sunday football team taking on FC Barcelona. In theory, it is possible to win, but in reality, they will almost certainly get hammered as they are less skilful, cannot run as fast, and only play on Sundays. This links back to the point above about violence as a revolutionary tactic. When you take into account the equipment and the training of the capitalist-state’s security forces, violence no longer looks like a wise choice but more like a suicidal one. While some may find this David versus Goliath scenario inspiring, David is much more likely to be crushed like an ant than take out the giant, and whether this is heroic or not is inconsequential if it does not produce change. When faced by the might of a modern army, a slingshot is little more defence than not having a slingshot.

This leads me to one final point before moving on. I started this section by stating that for the revolutionary, violence is seen as a tool to pick up and use. I have argued that it is not a necessary or useful tool. However, it is important to point out that violence is never simply a tool to be picked up and put down. If you wish to use violence you require an infrastructure and a culture of violence. People have to be trained in violence; they must be fit, overcome mental objections to murder, and be trained in military tactics. Weapons have to be made, along with the factories that will make them, and the metals that must be mined. Armies need to be supplied with food, clothes, and the recourses to deal with their injuries. Therefore, revolutionary violence is never just about picking up violence as a tool that is “necessary” for social transformation. Violence must be fostered and engrained before the tool can be used, and because of this, there is no simple way of just putting the tool down after you have built it. Organised violence is always institutionalised. And the effect of this is, as the Anarchist FAQ Collective (2017) quote at the beginning of this section asserts, “a revolution which institutionalises violence will just recreate the state in a new form.”

Excuse Two: Violence as Inspiring and Virtuous

I have argued so far that violence is not necessary for revolution because nonviolence is an option, and a historically more successful one at that. But not all of the anarchist justification of violence is based on the necessity of violence. Another justification of violence that can sometimes be seen within anarchism is an intrinsic argument. This is where violence is “justified by its direct contributions to the development of personal character, commitment to cause, and quality of social structure” (Alomes, 2012, p. 61).

The first part of this definition of the intrinsic justification of political violence, development of personal character, is not too applicable to anarchism as there is a recognition that violence does not represent development of the individual. This personal development argument can be found in revolutionary traditions outside of anarchism, such as in Fanon’s argument that violence by the colonised against the coloniser is a psychologically liberating experience (2001 [1961]). It agrees with the last part, the quality of the social structure, only in that if violence creates an anarchist revolution then it was justified, but violence in society itself is not seen as contributing anything positive. However, the middle part, commitment to cause, provides a link to anarchism.

Violence increasing commitment to the cause purportedly happens in two ways. The first is in line with Sorel’s theory that participating in violence with others increases class-consciousness (1999 [1908]). It increases the bonds between those who are struggling and creates more awareness of the capitalist elites who are to be opposed. I will deal with this fairly quickly by saying that nonviolence is also capable of this, and it is capable of doing it in a productive way, that does not destroy the other or take away their dignity, and that does not lead to war and the negative effects of war. I also deal with it briefly as I do not find this argument in the anarchist writing that I have engaged with.[40]

The second part can be seen within anarchism. It happens when people are either inspired to join the anarchist cause due to a physically violent act. Or, more subtly, when people are inspired by imagery — physical, as in pictures, films and dress, and mental as in ideas, stories and projections — of the revolutionary that is romanticised and/or portrays the violent revolutionary as a martyr. The romantic nature of the violent hero can be seen clearly in Bakunin’s work, for example (Carter, 1978, p. 338), as well as in the imagery of Che Guevara.[41] These romantic images lead to the idea of the violent revolutionary being inspirational, because of their violent action and not because of their ideas or nonviolent actions. The inspiration is tied to their use of physical violence, the risking of their life, and sometimes their death for the cause. This process can be seen as a form of cultural violence leading to direct violence if others use violence because the imagery of the violent revolutionary inspires them. It keeps people committed to the use of violence.[42] I will now discuss all of this starting with the physical act of violence and then the imagery of the violent revolutionary.

Propaganda of the deed, as briefly discussed above, is a tactic. It is where the violent act of an individual or small group inspires rebellion/revolution.[43] In reality, is an act of violence by a small group or an individual likely to trigger revolutionary change? Graeber (2012) writes that anarchists do not really follow this line of thinking anymore, at least in regard to acts of terrorism. He writes:

Anarchists were perhaps the first political movement to realise that terrorism, even if not directed at innocents, doesn’t work. For nearly a century now, in fact, anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up (indeed, the twentieth century political leader who drew most from the anarchist tradition was Mohandas K. Gandhi).

This comment is insightful because it suggests either: (1) recognition that violence is incompatible with anarchism in theory; or (2) it is a recognition of what terrorist tactics did to anarchism, that the costs outweighed the benefits (if there were any). Incidents such as the assignation of President McKinley in 1901, for example, hindered anarchism, as it allowed it to be portrayed as an ideology of violence and chaos rather than of mutual aid and human freedom (Ostergaard, 1982).[44] While some could argue that these kinds of acts put anarchism on the map, this false view of anarchism as being intimately connected to terrorism has continued, which has contributed to anarchism being rejected off-hand in many instances. I would suggest, along with Graeber’s comment above, that these are the reasons why no anarchists seem to argue for terrorism or assassination anymore. On top of this, anarchists likely learned that these actions could provoke a heavy-handed backlash by the state, resulting in, at worst, a police state or at best an increased harassment of radicals (Carter, 1978, p. 326).

Propaganda by the deed has become largely extinct. However, most anarchists still do not call themselves pacifists (Anarchist FAQ, 2017), and many hold that violence is inspiring. As I have said, this is linked to a romanticism of the image of revolution. The romantic idea of revolution does not mean that anarchists necessarily think there is a need to be violent now. Anarchists are (generally) not being violent now, but some believe that when the time comes, people will have to run into the streets and fight for justice or defend the barricades. Thus, they leave the door open for physical violence and its effects in the future.

The anarchist romantic image of revolution seems to have its root in the French Revolution (just like other revolutionary traditions), and a “romantic and dramatic” (Carter, 1978, p. 339) vision of defending the barricades (as in the Paris Commune), and in martyrdom, which forever immortalises the action. This also involves a romanticising of death itself, as revolutionary violence gives one’s own demise meaning and purpose. The image of the revolutionary I am talking about is like the images of revolutionaries in Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting Liberty Leading the People. This comparison may be over the top, but the idea of revolutionary violence being inspiring seems to have a root in the French revolutionaries claiming freedom. In the painting, Liberty rises up and stands on a foundation of corpses surrounded by revolutionaries holding weapons.

The virtuous martyr is seen as virtuous because they are using violence to achieve emancipation for the masses when they die. The construction of the martyr is based on romantic imagery which presents death, whether it leads to success or not, as heroic and importantly, bloodless. An image that reflects the reality of physical violence — of dead soldiers, bleeding, with their guts hanging out, and the effects of war on other people who are not fighting — could mean that the same image of revolution could be seen as a tragedy. This is especially true if, unlike the French revolution and more like violent attempts at anarchist revolution, the revolution was unsuccessful. This would mean that the tragedy of the capitalist-state (that the violent revolutionary tries to overcome) turns into further tragedy when the revolutionary is killed.

In reality, the death of the revolutionary is tragic, it is wasteful, it is not martyrdom in the sense that martyrdom results in a reward from the divine or becomes a symbol to justify further revolutionary violence. Martyrdom is not considered wasteful, but instead encourages others to follow a similar path. When violence is seen as a tragedy, then seeing dead revolutionaries as martyrs is to romanticise an image of something that is not true, as it removes the horrific nature of war and killing. The outcome of violence is especially tragic if the state can strengthen itself as a result of this process or kill more revolutionaries whose commitment to revolution is the hope for future change.

Romantic views of the violent revolutionary also come from the uneven odds when revolutionaries challenge the state, the David versus Goliath scenario, and the concept of the underdog.[45] This imagery is prevalent in many parts of society, not just in anarchism. I do not make the argument that the underdog should not be inspiring, although the argument can be made that there is a danger in lifting brave individuals onto a pedestal, as it makes them appear non-human, un-relatable, and the implication of this is that for ordinary people to do the same thing is unachievable. The romantic and inspiring view of the underdog, of the David-like figure, can apply to the image of the nonviolent revolutionary as well. It applies to the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, the Gandhians on the Dandi Satyagraha, and Rosa Park’s refusal to move from her seat on a Montgomery bus. These people and actions are inspiring and largely for the same reason that violent revolutionaries are inspiring: they are brave, principled and committed to the creating a new world. My argument is against the problem of violence, and the conflation with an inspiring act of defying power with violence. Because somebody does something inspiring in this sense does not make ending the lives of others suddenly productive, necessary, legitimate or more in line with anarchist ideals of mutual aid, anti-domination or anti-exploitation.

Carter (1978, p. 339) presents another concept that she sees within anarchist acceptance of violence and that is the Dionysian element of violence. Dionysus, son of Zeus, stands for irrational thinking and action and spontaneity, the opposite of his brother, Apollo, who is rational and ordered. Dionysian violence is spontaneous, irrational, and breaks one away from the controlling environment so that they experience freedom. This is inspiring, as everybody wants to experience agency. Here, the image of the revolutionary breaking free is heroic. This does not really apply to the nonviolent revolutionary who is seen as brave, yet restrained and under control. Carter writes:

Thus the continuing appeal of violence within the anarchist tradition (and indeed outside it) does not lie solely, or perhaps even primarily, in calculations of the efficiency and necessity of violence from a realistic standpoint. The attraction of Dionysian violence lies rather in the fact that it is spontaneous, reckless, and in a sense irrational, and that it is still seen as the archetypal form of human resistance to oppression and the medium through which heroic values can most fully be expressed.

Following this, to condemn this Dionysian violence can then be seen as the imposition of conservative bourgeois morality. I have already suggested that violence is not necessary for revolution; however, the problem of what is being highlighted here, the romantic imagery, the underdog, and Dionysian rather than Apollonian character, is that none of it has much to do with whether or not violence is useful or necessary. If the arguments above that show violence is not necessary, and that it is traumatic and an extreme form of domination are taken seriously, then these romantic images of the violent revolutionary should be seen as falsehoods.

When anarchists hold these views, it probably isolates them because even if anarchists, or any other leftists for that matter, are inspired by violence this does not mean that other people are. This may be partly because they simply do not share the romantic memory/myth of past revolutionary violence. Images of defending the barricades, for example, will almost certainly look bleak to someone with no connection to radical politics, especially if they do not feel the same commitment to the lineage of violent revolutionaries.

From looking at violent and nonviolent revolutions over the last century, we can say that, in general, people are not drawn to participate in violence as much as nonviolence (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011, pp. 34–39). This is one of the reasons that they say violence is less successful than nonviolence. They also suggest that higher participation helps to pull down more pillars of support. Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) argue that there are barriers to participation in violence that do not exist for nonviolence. Physical skills and ability are needed for violence, often meaning that only those who are young and fit can participate. There are informational barriers, as military groups are limited in the information they can provide to potential recruits because of issues of secrecy and the fact that they often have to hide. Hiding reduces contact with the wider population. There are moral barriers to those who do not want to kill or support killing. There are commitment barriers, as to be involved in a violent revolutionary movement means you need a commitment to training, living a harsh life-style, living away from loved ones, and a lot of risk. The mythological stories of revolution that help revolutionaries overcome these barriers are simply not there for people who are not already committed revolutionaries.

On the opposite side, it is much easier to participate in nonviolence, which is assisted by the often festival-like atmosphere of nonviolent campaigns (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011, p. 36). Nonviolence can offer a hopeful, inclusive experience to be involved in, one of creating a new world. Violence offers death, both of self and the other, suffering, and a lonely life. Nonviolence is enthusiastic. The experience of violence for those committing violence and the onlookers who live with the effects of war, is one where enthusiasm is sapped, even if the violence achieves its aim (Carter, 1978, p. 330). This is the opposite of Sorel’s (1999 [1908]) idea that participating in violence with others increases class-consciousness. Rather than laying the foundation for a new society, it reduces the number of active revolutionaries.

While images of violent revolutionaries do not appear to offer inspiration for the mainstream within the modern context, we can see the romantic imagery of violence survive in parts of the anarchist movement. We can see it, for example, in the imagery of the Black Bloc. As mentioned above, the Black Bloc do not aim to kill people. However, they mimic the violent imagery of the state, dressing like they are military in uniforms with their faces and eyes covered. They are aggressive and try to look intimidating. By doing this and smashing things up, they aim to “destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights” and believe their actions are inspiring (ACME Collective, 1999). My inkling is that people do not find this imagery inspiring, based on the fact there was not any visible sign of support for the Black Bloc after Seattle, for example, from the general population. Participation in the Seattle protests was at its highest before Black Bloc actions, and most participants did not use the tactics. We also see similar imagery in Chiapas in the 1990s and in Rojava now, where anarchists are photographed with covered faces and holding weaponry. This shows that these images and feelings about revolutionary violence and the violent revolutionary have not been extinguished.[46]

The Root Assumption: The Means of Violence Can Reach the Desired End of Revolution

Up to this point, I have argued that revolutionary violence is incompatible with anarchist ideas because of the dominating nature of violence. I have also argued that violence is not necessary because nonviolence can achieve the same aim, possibly with a higher chance of success. Finally, I have highlighted that anarchist acceptance of violence can be rooted in a romantic vision of the violent revolutionary and can lead to the acceptance of future revolutionary violence. However, looking at violent and nonviolent movements over the last century, it seems that people are more drawn to nonviolence than violence. I have suggested that the romantic vision is largely inaccurate, as it ignores the reality of direct violence, especially killing.

In this section, I get to the root of the problem with any argument for revolutionary violence; namely, that it disconnects the relationship between means and ends. This point, more than an argument for revolutionary violence, is really the theoretical position that leads to the idea that violence is necessary, liberating, inspiring and virtuous. The root problem is that means and ends are inseparable, causes create specific effects, and therefore violence has no hope of providing liberation in the form of a nonviolent anarchist society.

It has been recognised for a long time that means and ends are inseparable (Huxley, 1937). There is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that in societies that use direct violence, the violence perpetuates itself, leading to increasingly militaristic, hierarchical societies and domination (Fiala, 2014), and violence often produces ‘blow-back’ (Johnson, 2000). To see violence as necessary or productive for revolutionary aims, and to aspire towards it or hope it will create positive change, necessitates a failure to recognise cause and effect.

Anarchists who accept violence do so because they believe it to have a liberating potentiality. Giroud and Fanon (as outlined by Evans, 2009, p. 89) see that violence is often “bound to the desire to overcome past tragedy.” For anarchists, this is the tragedy of the capitalist-state. From this point of view, if the capitalist-state is overthrown and a society without violent authority emerges in its place, it does not matter how this happened. Violent positions in anarchism are really often only another assertion of just war theory where violence is used for just ends (Carter, 1978, p. 325). The evidence about nonviolence presented along with the discussion of the nature of violence puts this into contention. If violence has the nature I have suggested, how can it create a nonviolent society? How can domination create relations that are anti-dominating? How can violent authority dissolve violent authority? Put simply, to suggest that bad means can create good ends is a logical fallacy. Anarchists need to recognise Gandhi’s insight that means are ends. This is also an insight of social theory, which recognises the constitutive nature of political and social practice (Weedon, 1987).

This argument about the interconnectedness of means and ends is implicit in some of the research findings about nonviolence which are outlined above. Chenoweth and Stephan’s reasoning as to why more people participate in nonviolence is due to the means, namely, the festival-like atmosphere, the joy, the lack of barriers. Nonviolent movements decentralise leadership much more than violent movements and therefore we see more democracy during and after nonviolent campaigns, as the practice of democracy is constitutive. After nonviolent movements, we see less civil war, because nonviolent movements neither foster the physical means to wage war or try and solve their problems through killing others. Violent organisations in comparison, by necessity, are hierarchical and have extreme discipline, including most guerrilla armies. The anarchist columns in Catalonia also operated this way (Carter, 1978, p. 329).

Means and ends can also be seen in confrontations between revolutionaries and the state. Violent action can make onlookers support state repression, whereas nonviolence can lead to a backfire against the state. This is explained by Sharp’s concept of political ju-jitsu, defined by Sharp (2005, p. 549) as a situation where “violent oppression against nonviolent resisters is turned to operate politically against the opponents, weakening their power position and strengthening the power capacity of the nonviolent resisters.” Here, state violence against nonviolent protesters results in more people rejecting the regime and joining the movement. It can also cause dissent in the regime, in security forces, for example (Sharp, 2011, p. 34). How this relates to means and ends can be explained by the Gandhian theory of moral ju-jitsu. This is where the nonviolent nature of revolutionaries throws those who are challenging them into a moral spin. For representatives of the state, this means that they must inflict harm on those who greet them with peace, maybe even love, and therefore the harm they inflict is no longer justified. Onlookers see that this violence is not just and join the cause. People do not like to see people get hurt, especially when the hurt is unjust, at it is almost always seen as unjust to hurt an unarmed and nonaggressive opponent.

It is curious that an ideology/movement that often strongly recognises that means and ends are the same does not recognise the same logic when it comes to revolutionary violence. Anarchism’s initial division with Marxism in the First International was over a dispute about state seizure.[47] The view of the anarchists was that taking the seat as a new ruler of the capitalist-state would lead to totalitarianism. The new leader, however well-meaning, would be corrupted by power and make decisions to maintain their power and to implement the revolution. This would result in a strengthening rather than abolishing of the state. The anarchists rejected state seizure as a means because they were convinced that state seizure could not result in a society of human flourishing. Anarchists would argue that it was clearly demonstrated in the 1917 Russian revolution as it progressed towards Stalinism, as the new leaders removed the power of the soviets and fought challengers in a brutal civil war. This included fighting anarchists who in theory had very similar aims, hence why both anarchists and Marxists were together in the First International in the first place. You can also see a recognition of the inseparable relationship between means and ends in anarchist organisation, such as its commitment to consensus decision-making. Anarchist projects aim to live the revolution now. They organise their groups and communities in ways that are voluntary and are not dominating and/or exploitative.

Emma Goldman and Errico Malatesta are good examples of anarchists who I think understood these problems, but were lost on how to create change without a violent uprising. Goldman recognises the negative cause-effect relationship that militarism has on society. This is especially true in her writing on Russia (1923) and she wrote about militarism in “Patriotism, a Menace to Liberty” (2016 [1908]):

The contention that a standing army and navy is the best security of peace is about as logical as the claim that the most peaceful citizen is he who goes about heavily armed. The experience of every-day life fully proves that the armed individual is invariably anxious to try his strength. The same is historically true of governments. Really peaceful countries do not waste life and energy in war preparations, with the result that peace is maintained.

Malatesta is possibly more aware than any anarchist theorist about the connectedness of means and ends. His writings about it are quite overt, and I think it is worth quoting one of them at length to demonstrate my argument, as well as the anarchist position. For example, in his article A Little Theory (2017 [1892]), he writes:

The end that one proposes being given… lead[s] most certainly and most economically to the coveted end… to have found the good means, that is the whole secret of the great men and great parties, who have left their marks on history.

However, he has a mental block when it comes to the possibility of nonviolent revolution:

But do we renounce for that the use of violent means? Not in the least… Certainly we don’t want to harm a hair on anyone’s head; we would like to dry all the tears and not to make any more be shed. But we must struggle in the world such as it is, or else remain sterile dreamers. The day will come, we firmly believe, in which it will be possible to produce good for people without making evil for anyone. Today it is not possible… it is a question then, always, in all the acts of life, of choosing the least evil, of trying to make the least evil for the largest amount of human good. We know too well the dreadful material and moral conditions in which the proletariat finds itself to not understand the acts of hate, of vengeance, even of ferocity which can be produced. We understand that there are some oppressed who, having always been treated by the bourgeois with the most shameful hardness, having always seen that everything was permitted to the strongest, one bright day, when they find themselves for a moment the strongest, say: “Let us also do as the bourgeois do.” We understand that it can happen that in the fever of battle some natures — originally generous, but not prepared by a long moral exercise, very difficult in present conditions — lose sight of the end to be attained, take violence for the end in itself and allow themselves to be led to savage transports. But it is one thing to understand and to pardon these acts, and another to claim them as our own. These are not acts that we can accept, encourage, and imitate… in a word, we must be inspired by the sentiment of love for people, for all people. It appears to us that the sentiment of love is the moral source, the soul of our programme: it appears to us that only by conceiving the revolution as the grand human jubilee, as the liberation and fraternization of all, no matter what class or what party they have belonged to, can our ideal be realized… Hate does not produce love; we will not renew the world by hate. And the revolution of hate will either fail completely, or else result in a new oppression, which could be called anarchist, as one calls the present governments liberal, but which will not be less an oppression and will not fail to produce the effects which produce all oppression.

Anarchism is not far away from accepting pacifism. They accept the inseparability of means and ends; it is explicit in all of their theory and organisation, except for when it comes to revolutionary violence. There is no need for the argument of necessity to be followed anymore. Over the almost one hundred and thirty years since Malatesta wrote the passage above, nonviolence has shown its possibility, and violence its counterproductive nature. Maybe if Malatesta were writing today, he would be a pacifist. Anarchists of today need to take this seriously.

Conceptualising an Anarcho-pacifist Nonviolence

It is important to finish by recognising that there are issues, historic and current, with some pacifist and nonviolent movements that do not fit nicely with anarchism. Anarcho-pacifists have always rejected what they call bourgeois pacifism, which is uncritical of capitalism and the state and is “weak in its analysis of the causes of war” (Ostergaard, 1982, p. 13; de Ligt, 1989 [1938]). Ostergaard (1982, p. 13) also says that there were traditional incompatibilities with the anarchist rejection of the church (at a time when it held much more social power and authority) and the often-religious nature of pacifism. These issues stopped the pacifist and anarchist movements from coming together.

As for nonviolent movements, many have not led to desirable outcomes for anarchists, as many of these movements also accept the capitalist-state, and therefore accept structural and cultural violence that inherently blocks transformation to an anarchist society (Llewellyn, 2017). Many successful nonviolent movements have continued or enabled the “the spread of neoliberal freedom and democracy, which causes multiple forms of visible and invisible violence” (Chabot and Sharifi, 2013, p. 205). This could be termed bourgeois nonviolence as opposed to radical nonviolence. However, these “bourgeois” movements still show how power can be generated nonviolently, as does nonviolence theory. Therefore, just because numerous nonviolent movements do not hold anarchist ideals does not mean that nonviolence is incompatible with anarchism. The pacifist position is not only compatible with anarchism, it is the logical conclusion of the anarchist rejection of violent authority, domination and exploitation. Anarcho-pacifism is necessarily a radical pacifism.

The argument presented here is that, violence, like a house fire, turns everything to rubble and ash. Violent revolutionaries expect a spectacular golden phoenix to rise from these ashes, but they seem unaware that the phoenix is nothing more than a myth. Nothing rises from ashes except for smoke. When you create rubble and ash you create a hostile environment and it takes a long time for life to appear and establish itself again. To create the new society, you must build rather than destroy, and learn to live differently rather than reproduce the awful violence that you seek to remove. To choose violence is to continue the ever-spinning wheel of violence and hate. Violence is conservative because to argue for it is based on out-dated and failed techniques of change, and an inaccurate, nostalgic imagery of revolution. Violence is uncreative, as the conservative decision to adopt it prevents the exploration of nonviolent alternatives. It is also uncreative as it simply mimics the state’s violence and justifications for violence, rather than doing something new. In its nature, violence is authority and domination: literally what anarchism is defined as being against.


The implications of this are simple. Anarchism, in light of the evidence about the efficacy of nonviolence and the inconsistency of anarchist principles and violence, must overcome the warism that has led many anarchists to continue to advocate for violence, or refuse to rule it out as an option of the future.[48] Anarchists must reject revolutionary violence on the basis that it is unnecessary, regardless of notions of virtue or inspiration from previous revolutionaries or a romantic view of violent revolution. Ultimately, they must reject it, as they reject state-seizure and hierarchical organisation, because it is not a means that can produce their desired ends. This does not mean they should become passive or reject revolution. It means that they must adopt and explore revolutionary nonviolence. They must become anarcho-pacifists.

This leads onto the second part of the thesis. So far, I have argued that anarchism is the logical end point of pacifism, and pacifism is the logical end point of anarchism. I will now move on to explore the anarcho-pacifist tradition, its theory and past and current practice in the Gandhian tradition. To do this, I will start by explaining why the Gandhian sarvodaya movement was chosen for exploration.

PART TWO: Anarcho-Pacifist Vision and Practice: An Exploration of the Sarvodaya Movement

Chapter Four: Exploring Anarcho-Pacifist Theory Through Gandhi

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they belong. Now put foundations under them.

— Henry David Thoreau (2006 [1854], p. 315)

Those seeking counterparts or solidarities might be guided not by anarchism but instead by that broader principle, tendency, or orientation of which Western Anarchism is one derivation or subset. The Liberty Tree is a great banyan, whose branches cross and weave, touching the earth in many places to form a horizontal, interconnected grove of new trunks.

— Maia Ramnath (2011, p. 8)

In the previous section, I outlined an anarcho-pacifist theory and worldview. This included an outline of anarcho-pacifism’s perspective on what violence is, what peace is, and how anarchism and pacifism come together. Anarcho-pacifism sees a peaceful society as one which does not hinder, but which enables human flourishing. For people to have the potential to flourish, they need to be able to live a life that is free from direct, structural and cultural violence and where they are guaranteed the basic needs of survival, such as food, shelter, and tools for necessary work. To do this, the capitalist-state needs to be removed and this cannot be done with violence.

A common response to anarchism is exemplified by Žižek (2002, p. 72) who says, “my first problem with anarchism is always ‘yeah, I agree with your goals, but tell me how you are organized?’” In other words, while the logic of anarcho-pacifism may be accepted (not that I think Žižek is about to become a pacifist), it is unclear how it would work. The aim of the second part of this thesis is to explore how it could work, and how it has worked in the past, by looking to the Gandhian sarvodaya movement. This fulfils the dual role of exploring Žižek’s question, but also pointing out that there are examples of anarchist(ic) and nonviolent organisation that have existed and can be learnt from.

In this chapter, I will outline how I will explore the Gandhian movement, and justify this case selection. First, I will explain my method and how it fits with researching anarchism, and researching as an anarchist. Next, I will explain why I have chosen to conduct an exploration of Gandhi and his followers. I will also discuss how Gandhi can be seen as an anarchist, and potential issues with labelling him an anarchist. Finally, I will outline exactly who the participants in this research are, and where they come from.

Approaches to the Study of Anarchism

There have been multiple approaches to studying anarchism; Kinna (2005) outlines three. The first “is to trace a history of anarchist ideas through the analysis of key texts or the writings of important thinkers” (Kinna, 2005, p. 10). Kinna points out that this approach leads to the inclusion of some and the exclusion of others, and often reflects the bias of the selector. Kinna (2005, p. 11) notes a criticism of the approach, which comes from Guérin, who suggests that this approach means that the researcher leans towards conducting a biography rather than analysing anarchist ideas. The second method is distinguishing between different schools of thought within anarchism. The third is through historical analysis (Kinna, 2005, p. 14).

This thesis is not a study of anarchism as a whole, but an awareness of Kinna’s three categorises is useful to shed light on the methodology I have used. My approach draws on all three approaches, with varying weights on each. In relation to the first, I do not aim to create an anarcho-pacifist canon. Instead, I focus on one very significant section of anarcho-pacifist practice, as enacted by the Gandhians in India. My exploration of Gandhi and his followers necessitates a certain tracing of history, from Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa in the early 1900s, to his assassination, and onto the movements and ideas of his most significant anarchistic followers, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. Without tracing Gandhian action and the thought and philosophy that informs it, albeit in a very brief and condensed way, there is no context for the comments of modern day followers of Gandhian and Gandhian anarchistic practices that I will present, or any contextualisation for the Gandhian blueprint of a nonviolent society. Therefore, the following chapter will briefly outline the history of the movement and the Gandhian philosophy.

In relation to the second approach, distinguishing between different types of anarchist thought, I am making one crude division within anarcho-pacifism, which is already clear. I highlighted this in the introduction to this thesis, and I will not recap this and expand upon my reasoning as I justify the Gandhian case selection. I say crude because I simply split anarcho-pacifism into two. On one side is anarcho-pacifism, following a lineage from the European anarchists. The other is Gandhian “anarchism”, which is the primary focus of the remainder of this thesis.

There are good reasons for the division between the Eurocentric and Gandhian models. There are significant differences in the theory, philosophy and world-view of each, much larger than between other types of anarcho-pacifism, as Gandhi rises out of a deep pool of original Indian thought which forms the basis of his philosophy. However, while there are differences, both the European and Gandhian traditions subscribe to the basic argument presented in the first half of this thesis. This will become increasingly clear as I discuss the Gandhian approach in the following chapters. Given Gandhi’s deep rootedness within the Indian context, I am very reluctant to place the word “anarchism” upon Gandhi. Gandhi, while influenced by European anarchists such as Tolstoy, does not need to look to Europe to find a libertarian philosophy. To suggest that he did, or that he needed to, would be again to place Indian knowledge below European knowledge, continuing the colonising process.

On top of this, the Gandhian movement/s was/is far larger than any European (and by extension, American, etc.) anarcho-pacifist movement. While many are aware of Gandhi’s role in nonviolent resistance to the British, few outside of India are aware of the vast array of experiments — campaigns, institutions and organisations – that he launched and supported. Few are aware of the work of his follower, Vinoba, who led a mass campaign gaining tens of millions of acres of land for the landless through nonviolent action, and launching a campaign to effectively turn India’s villages into communes: an idea that a massive 30% of all India’s villages had agreed to in the early 1970s (Vettickal, 2002). Few are also aware, outside of India at least, that it was a Gandhian movement, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, which ousted Indira Gandhi as she imposed authoritarian rule. The Gandhian movement has not fully achieved its revolutionary aims, but it has gone further than many other revolutionary movements.

In this way, the European tradition of anarcho-pacifism falls behind the Indian. While certain movements, such as the Movement for a New Society (Cornell, 2011), were influential nationwide movements, no movement that works without violence against violence, to borrow Vinthagen’s (2015, p. 12) phrase, and aimed to create a stateless society, has had: (1) the same numbers of participants in nonviolent resistance to both colonial rule and the Indian state post-independence; and (2) the same number of participants actively creating a new model of society through experimentations in non-dominating forms of production, technology, political organisation, and community. Hence, I have deemed the Gandhian movement to be the most important case to explore.

It would certainly be possible to split anarcho-pacifism into further schools of thought other than Gandhian and Eurocentric. For example, there are various forms of religious and secular forms of anarcho-pacifism that have been practiced in the West. The Catholic Worker, the Ploughshares movement, and followers of Tolstoy, are anarcho-pacifist and Christian. Bart de Ligt advocated for a pacifist anarcho-syndicalism. Others, such as Paul Goodman and Alex Comfort give significant contributions to anarcho-pacifism as well, along with some members of the Beat Generation. War tax resistance has often had anarcho-pacifist participation, and groups in the anti-war movement, such as the War Resisters League, have had multiple anarcho-pacifist members. On top of this, movements like Food not Bombs, are explicitly nonviolent and anarchist. Each of these has demonstrated their own thought and way of enacting anarcho-pacifism. On the Gandhian side, the movement could also be split into further sub-groups, both in terms of Gandhi’s approach to change and the focus of his followers. These divisions will become clear in the following chapters.

In order to identify and explore different schools of anarcho-pacifism comprehensively, one would have to go back to the historical theorists again. This is a missing piece of research, which would be necessary in order to gain a full understanding of anarcho-pacifism, but is outside the scope of this research. The theory presented in the previous section, while being anarcho-pacifist, is my own, and not directly based on a specific anarcho-pacifist theorist or movement. I do not necessarily make my argument, for example, in the same way as a Catholic Worker, a Gandhian, a Tolstoyan, or an anarcho-pacifist conscientious objector would make a case for anarcho-pacifism. An exploration and comparison of these views would allow for a greater understanding of anarcho-pacifism as a whole and how cohesive its theory is. However, while exploring this would help gain a deep understanding of anarcho-pacifist theory and practice, it would again take away from the focus of this research which is primarily to explore the practice of anarcho-pacifism, and how it can be lived moving forward.

The third of the approaches that Kinna lists, historical analysis, I do only superficially, where it is imperative to illuminate the Gandhian anarcho-pacifist practice. I aim to provide some background to the Gandhian blueprint, as you cannot discuss Gandhi’s proposals for a nonviolent society, or that of his followers, without some discussion of the historical context and historical movements that led to them. However, I do not offer a comprehensive history of any movement here, or an analysis of it as such. Again, to do this would be beyond the scope of this thesis, as I look to outline, highlight and discuss how the blueprint can be lived and reflect on the lessons from how it has been enacted, as seen through the eyes of current Gandhians. However, historical analysis is clearly necessary for a full understanding of the movement.

This task is partially complete. For example, there are histories of Gandhi. While many do not focus on Gandhian anarchistic ideas and practice, some do. These include Doctor (1964, 1987), Ostergaard and Currell (1971), and Ostergaard (1985), Vittickal (2002), Narayanasamy (2003), Hardiman (2003) and Shah (2009). While the history, especially of Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, has been discussed, his blueprint for a nonviolent society of non-hierarchical villages has been barely discussed in the English language, except in the works just mentioned.[49] This is true both in academic work and in popular depictions of Gandhi, such as Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning film about his life. This comment is not a criticism. Many of these works give valuable insights into aspects of Gandhi, particularly his resistance to British imperial rule. However, they are not complete representations of Gandhian thought. While the building of the nonviolent society and nonviolent resistance to those in power can never be separated, the former is what Gandhi saw as the most important. This research is therefore an attempt to desubjugate Gandhi’s anti-state theory and practice.

My key concern in these chapters is to highlight what has been missed. The Gandhian plan for a nonviolent society is wholly consistent with anarcho-pacifist principles. The movement they created, the sarvodaya (welfare for all) movement, produced a plan for the creation of nonviolent society that is more detailed and was enacted on a scale larger than any European anarcho-pacifist lineage.[50] These plans and enactments of nonviolent society rest in Gandhi’s vision for India’s villages and in the constructive programme — a programme of key points to commit to in order for society to live nonviolently — and the organisations of constructive work, which he and his followers founded.

While my method of exploration draws on each of Kinna’s three approaches, it relies heavily on an additional method, which is my key way of contributing new knowledge: interviews with followers of Gandhi today. The combination of interviews with an exploration of Gandhi’s blueprint through key writings, helps me to answer two questions: What is the Gandhian planned and partially enacted blueprint for a nonviolent, state-less society? From experimenting with this blueprint, what have Gandhian activists learned, and what are their key principles for action moving forwards?

I stated in the introduction to the thesis that this is activist research with a political and ideological rather than objective ontology. It is also an exploratory study. The normative aim of this research means that interviews with contemporary anarcho-pacifists (specifically, Gandhians) are appropriate for this research, more so than a thorough historical exploration. This is because current activists/practitioners will have insights into the modern context that an exploration into the past, which may still be helpful on a conceptual level, cannot provide.

Anarchist Methodology: Conducting Anarchist Research via Interviews

Here, I will outline my method, which combined open interviews with a grounded theory approach, and the reason for the selection of this approach for this research. The use of interviews gives two major advantages. First, it allows for up-to-date modern insights into lived practice of those who are nonviolent and anti-state, and a snapshot of the thinking and knowledge fostered by current practitioners. It also makes it possible to see differences and similarities between the modern context and the past; to what was being advocated twenty, fifty, or one hundred years ago. This is important given the length of time that the Gandhian movement spans, with Gandhi developing his anarchistic ideas in the early 1900s and his commitment to and method of nonviolent resistance earlier than that.

Second, conducting interviews also brings out the voices out of those that are often hidden, at least in peace and conflict studies research. There are multiple reasons for these voices being hidden. One is likely a lack of interest from peace and conflict studies as it currently stands, with its lack of interest in the violence of the state and, albeit to a lesser extent, and until recently, in revolutionary social transformation, as discussed in previous chapters. This fits with a general failure for anarchism to be taken seriously in a range of academic fields, although this is changing. Another is because the lack of access to knowledge, especially in certain parts of the globe. The “lack of access” could more accurately be described as a prevention of access.

When I returned from conducting interviews in India, I had a book with me that had been kindly gifted to me by one of my interview participants in India. The book, “Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj”, was written by a well-respected Gandhian called Kanti Shah (2009). It was originally written in Gujarati, but was published in English twice in 2009 and 2014. A couple of months after returning, I was asked to teach a university post-graduate class and wanted to include it in the required reading list. The university library was unable to order a copy of the book through any of their ordering channels. This is not just a problem with one book on this topic coming from India. The consequence is that the voice of the people who are carrying Gandhian thought forward, in the here and now, are often silenced, at least on the global level. This bringing-out of voices is important, especially in cases as above, where voices are being suppressed or not heard. As I stated at the beginning of this thesis, this research is ideological, and aims to promote and assist anarcho-pacifism, and in that sense, should be doing this.

It should go without saying that anarchist research, as this is, should be anarchist in nature. This means it should not be domineering or maintain privileging hierarchies. Anarchist research requires what anarchism preaches, mutual aid. Mutual aid research must be collaborative, which means that the researcher is not the expert or the objective observer who determines what is correct or incorrect. Anarchist research should involve the researcher listening to others’ experience, and because of this, interviews conducted for this research were only semi-structured. By semi-structured I mean that I had predetermined questions prepared (Given, 2008), but in some interviews, I asked lots of questions; in others, only one or two. This allowed participants to express what they thought was important, to direct the conversation when they wanted to. As a result, each interview went quite differently. This process allowed for progress and direction that was largely unobstructed by myself, the researcher (Feyerabend, 1993). Follow up questions were largely based on what the participant had offered, often allowing for what could better be described as a focused conversation, rather than an interview. From these conversations I selected three key themes, and then sub-themes under that which came out of the conversations. These are: first, how we engage with others; second, political organisation; and third, thoughts on the future. This process is basically a grounded theory approach (Bryant, 2007). Grounded theory’s method of finding patterns in information and then putting it into categories, is what was used here; the categories are grounded in the data (Kelle, 2007). They are grounded in the words of the Gandhian participants.

As stated in the introduction, activist research “comes about through long-term commitment to the struggle and those in it, and through critical engagement with what’s going on in that struggle” (King, 2016, p. 8). To meet these ends, it would be ideal to conduct activist research as participation, or action research. Here, participation research means that:

the rigid separation between researcher and researched is dissolved in favour of an approach whereby good research cannot be done on people but must be done with them (Gordon, 2014, p. 86).

This allows for the expression of:

anarchist values by compounding observation with a process of collaboration and dialogue which empowers, motivates, increase self-esteem and develops solidarity among all those taking part (Ibid, p. 86).

This research is not participation research. There are multiple reasons for this. The main reason is to do with the scope of the thesis. It is also partly because the resources for the research were limited. Time and money did not allow for extended time to be spent with the interviewees. Research was conducted in various states around North and Central India. To spend extended periods of time with each of the activists interviewed would require a lot more resources, both financially and in time. In terms of the scope of the research, doing participation research with a fraction of the participants would not allow for the comparison between groups and people, or a snapshot of Gandhian thought and action. However, the interview process as described above, aims to maximise collaboration and dialogue, the essence of participation research, within the limits of this project, which I will discuss further later in this chapter.

It is important to recognise potential bias in the data that may emerge through this type of research. Interviews were conducted between Gandhians or proponents of Gandhi, and myself, somebody sympathetic to the Gandhian vision. This has the potential to lead to a limiting of critical evaluation, and a tendency to focus on the positive or successful aspects of the movement at the expense of negative or failed aspects. Having said this, I must emphasis that many of the interviewees made an effort to highlight failures, and they were keen to point out that not every Gandhian initiative has had success, even when they were talking about successes. I hope that this, combined with my engagement with literature that is critical of the movement helps overcome negative outcomes of bias. An engagement with the movement that only paints a rosy picture would not offer findings that are useful for other movements and activist groups moving forward. Another selection bias is that I was often talking to people who had achieved successes in various campaigns and projects. This is often how I heard about the interview participants, and this framed the content of the interviews. I did not gain access to less prominent Gandhian workers, or people who directly observed or Gandhian movements and had a negative view of them.

Of course, fully living up to anarchist ideals while conducting research in a university setting will have its limitations. It is impossible to truly even out the imbalance between interviewer and participant when one party, the researcher, gains from the research in different ways, for example, through gaining a qualification such as a PhD. In this way, there is an inequality in the relationship. For this reason, it is vital for activist researchers to be engaged in self-reflection and analysis, to constantly be aware of one’s position in the world and in the research, and then to conduct research accordingly. The choice to use an open interview technique is one way that I aimed to make this research more anarchist. Another is to include the voice of participants as much as possible in my writing through direct quotations. A third way was to send transcripts of the interviews to all participants to allow them to add, remove or modify the information that would be used in this thesis. This process was repeated as I sent specific quotes back to the participants before using them.

Specifics of Inclusion: Exploring Gandhian rather than Euro-Centric Visions

The quote by Ramnath (2011) at the beginning of this chapter speaks to the reality that “Anarchism” — as a political theory and movement that stemmed out of the European Left in the early 1800s — is only one expression of a broader set of libertarian (in the true sense of the word) principles. This Anarchism can be called big A Anarchism. Small a anarchism, as defined by Ramnath (2011, p. 7):

implies a set of assumptions and principles, a recurrent tendency or orientation – with the stress on movement in a direction, not a perfect condition – towards more dispersed and less concentrated power; less top-down hierarchy and more self-determination through bottom-up participation; liberty and equality seen as directly rather than inversely proportional; the nurturance of individuality and diversity within a matrix of interconnectivity, mutuality and accountability; and an expansive recognition of the various forms that power relations can take, and correspondingly, the various dimensions of emancipation.

Small a anarchism rejects the capitalist-state, and with it, violent authority. However, it may not call itself anarchist. In terms of creating an anarchist peace, it does not matter whether a movement calls itself anarchist or not. What matters is that it does what is necessary to create peace, which at a foundational level, according to the theory I have outlined, is: first, to reject all forms of violent authority including the capitalist-state (as discussed in Chapter Two); and second, to remove the capitalist-state and create nonviolent alternatives, without the use of direct violence (as discussed in Chapter Three). This is the concern of this thesis, and therefore what movements or activists call themselves, as long as these aims are being followed or committed to, is neither here nor there.

There is likely a multitude of examples of movements and communities that have followed small a anarcho-pacifist principles. The Gandhian movement, otherwise known as the sarvodaya – welfare for all – movement in India, could be seen as a meta-movement. It includes the various movements led by Mahatama Gandhi, but also his successors, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan. The distinction between big A and little a anarchism provides a solid foundation on which to discuss Gandhi’s inclusion. I briefly discussed this in the introduction, but it is important to elaborate here. Gandhi is and is not an anarchist. He can fit within the theory of anarcho-pacifism presented in that, as I have said before, he is committed to nonviolence, recognises means/ends consistently, rejects violent authority including the state (Mantena, 2012a), aims to create bottom-up democracy, and seeks to develop an economic model that is based on the needs of all sentient beings and the planet and is therefore opposed to capitalism. He aims for a eudaimonious peace. In this way, he fits within the definition of little a anarchism. His thought can be seen as one of the many branches of Ramnath’s banyan tree. As I mentioned, in the introduction to this thesis, many have therefore labelled Gandhi an anarchist (Ostergaard, 1985; Ostergaard and Currell, 1971; Doctor, 1964; Woodcock, 1972; Kumar, 2004, p. 377).

Gandhi also explicitly acknowledges anarchy. For example, he (Gandhi, 1969 [1940], p. 342) writes that, “Legislation imposed by people upon themselves is non-violence to the extent it is possible in society. A society organized and run on the basis of complete non-violence would be the purest anarchy”. Gandhi (1969 [1935], p. 287) also clearly sees the state as inherently violent, expressing that:

I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of the progress. The state represents violence in a concentrated and organised form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.

One of the reasons that the anarchistic part of Gandhian thought may not have been commonly explored is due to Gandhi’s relationship and engagement with those who led a less radical vision of India’s future post-independence. Gandhi worked through and within Congress during the independence movement. Also, key figures, such as India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, were heavily involved in Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, but did not share his vision of a nonviolent post-independence future. However, it does not take too much reading of Gandhi and his followers, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan, to realise that their vision was anarchistic. In another quote, Gandhi (1999a [1939], p. 380) famously stated that:

Political power, in my opinion, cannot be our ultimate aim. It is one of the means used by men and women for their all-round advancement. The power to control national life through national representatives is called political power. Representatives will become unnecessary if the national life becomes so perfect as to be self-controlled. It will then be a state of enlightened anarchy in which each person will become her and his own ruler. He will conduct himself in such a way that his behaviour will not hamper the well-being of his neighbours. In an ideal State there will be no political institution and therefore no political power. That is why Thoreau has said in his classic statement that “that government is the best which governs the least.”

This quote, possibly more than any other, shows that his conception of a nonviolent polity was a stateless, non-hierarchical, society. Vinoba Bhave, whom I will introduce in more detail in the next chapter, held the same aims and views as Gandhi in this regard (Clark, 2013, p. 223). He states this clearly (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 17):

Sarvodaya does not mean good government or majority rule, it means freedom from government, it means decentralisation of power. We want to do away with government by politicians and replace it by a government of the people, based on love, compassion and equality. Decisions should be taken, not by a majority, but by unanimous consent; and they should be carried out by the united strength of the ordinary people of the village.

Gandhi often explained his anarchist rejection of government, the state, and capitalism in different terms to European Leftists. He mostly writes that he rejects modern civilisation, rather than the capitalist-state (Gandhi, 2015a [1908]). This term encompasses the capitalist-state, but as will be explained in the next chapter, it contains a deeper rejection of colonisation and power-over than my theory on the violence of the capitalist-state above can provide. He talks of trusteeship, rather than private or state property or ownership. He provides a much deeper theory of the role and nature of the individual in regards to social change and emancipation. He also provides a deep theory of action, not merely stating that resistance must be nonviolent, but providing a comprehensive theory and method of nonviolent social transformation.

Gandhi’s theory, while coming to many of the same major conclusions as anarchism, comfortably stands alone from anarchism, in its own right. As well as being based philosophically and materially within India, Gandhi’s thought is pervaded by an anti-colonial outlook, far more than big A anarchists in Europe at the time. Gandhi’s path is indigenous to India. It is based on the Vedas, on traditional Indian organisational and technological structures, and on traditions of political engagement and resistance rooted within India. He does not need to look to the political traditions of Europe, and does not believe Indians should do this if they are to achieve swaraj (self-rule) (Shah, 2009). To subsume Gandhi under the Anarchist umbrella is therefore a colonising act. To suggest that other people in the world must adopt political theory rooted in Europe, as Marxists and some anarchists have in the past, is a colonising act. It also does a disservice to Gandhi, who as I have said, arguably built and led a bigger movement, held more influence, and left a bigger legacy than any anarchist. For example, many more people know about Gandhi than about Kropotkin or Bakunin. In short, Gandhi is a little a anarchist, or a anarcho-pacifist, but not a big A anarchist, or Anarcho-pacifist. Given this, and his immense contribution to nonviolence, his inclusion is justified in this research. In fact, further, he is integral to it as the most influential anarcho-pacifist, if we are using the small-a definition.

Gandhi’s inclusion can be justified further. While he has not been as influential on Euro-centric anarchism as a whole, as one might expect, he has certainly been influential in the Euro-centric anarcho-pacifist traditions, both in Europe and the USA (Ostergaard, 1982), especially as he demonstrated nonviolence on a mass scale. Also, he read and had discussions with multiple important anarchists. I have said that Gandhi was influenced by, and communicated with anarchists. He engaged with Tolstoy and Thoreau, with a line of direct communication with the former. He also had direct correspondence with the Dutch anarcho-pacifist, Bart de Ligt (1989 [1938]). He also engaged with Kropotkin (Dalton, 1993, p. 21). Tolstoy and Thoreau were also read by some of his followers, along with the likes of Peter Kropotkin (Desai, 1972), although I do not know to what extent.

In the chapters that follow, I will outline the information gained from the interviews. However, before delving into the interview data, I will outline theory and proposals from key Gandhian anarchistic theorists, notably Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. I do this in order to add support and context to the interview data. I hope that this approach will also help to justify the case section further, as the size of the Gandhian movement, its achievements, and the diversity of issues it has been engaged in, is demonstrated. I will then move onto the last part of the thesis where I will relate all of this information back to the theory presented in the first part of this thesis, and offer some conclusions.

The Interview Participants

Up to this point, I have explained my method of exploration, which is largely through open interviews, and I have discussed the case selection of Gandhi in order to answer questions about how anarcho-pacifist theory can be lived. The participants in this research are all committed to nonviolence and follow in Gandhi’s footsteps. Many follow Gandhi, but do not adopt the label of Gandhian. In fact, most interview participants rejected the label “Gandhian”, seeing themselves as followers, heavily influenced by, or admirers or students of Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and/or Jayaprakash Narayan. Most stated, when asked if they would call themselves Gandhian, that to be called a Gandhian one would have to follow Gandhi’s 11 eleven vows (see Appendix Two). Others rejected ideology and “isms”, as they are limiting and prevent free thought. In saying this, many also acknowledged that others called them Gandhians. This is important to put up front for two reasons. First, because I do not want to misrepresent the interview participants. Second, because it points to the openness of the Gandhian worldview. It is flexible, non-dogmatic, and open to other’s points of view.

I will now briefly outline who these participants are, some of what they do, and where they are from, before discussing findings/discoveries in the following chapters. Data from a total of twelve in depth interviews will inform the findings of this research. Ten of these were conducted in North and Central India. Two were conducted with followers of Gandhi based in California, USA.

At the beginning of the research process, it was my aim to include participants from anarcho-pacifists in the European tradition. Interviews were conducted in the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand. In total, there were twenty-five participants spread over all three countries with seven in the USA, eight in Aotearoa, and ten in India. However, I decided to exclude these interviews for the time being, and there are two key reasons for this. First, no other movement compared to the size and experience of the Gandhian movement, which made them, on the whole, less suited to answer questions and offer reflections on how anarcho-pacifism can be enacted on a large scale. This is not to say that they do not have very valuable insights, and some movements such as the Movement for a New Society, did offer their own blueprint. However, most movements focused on single issues rather than being united in one mass movement like the Gandhians. This is certainly not a criticism of any movement; they simply have different insights to offer.

This leads me to the second reason. Space constraints in this thesis are limited, and I felt that to do both sides justice, I could not introduce the voice of all interview participants, give their valuable experience adequate voice, and provide context to the movements and actions that they are/were involved in. As a result, I have decided to split the two, saving the valuable findings from the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand for another piece of work or an expanded version of this thesis in the future. This issue also speaks to the selection of the Gandhians as the case to be explored here, because while no anarcho-pacifist voices are heard very loudly, those in India are heard even less due to a variety of barriers. This is even more concerning given the size of their achievements, as I have briefly stated above, and will elaborate on further in the following chapters. The benefit of focusing only on the Gandhian example is that it allowed me to provide a more in-depth analysis of the movement, rather than a superficial comparison of multiple movements.

It is hard to get this information, especially about the actions of the Gandhian movement after Gandhi’s death, at least in English language sources — arguably more so than many other anarcho-pacifist movements. This is at least true within peace and conflict studies, nonviolence and civil resistance studies, and within anarchist and broader leftist circles. It is therefore also my aim to highlight their movements, to partially respond to Žižek’s question above, and show how they were organised. While I am putting other movements that could answer this aside, I endeavour to bring their voices into future work where I can undertake a more robust discussion of their contributions to building an alternative society.

Of course, India, as one would expect, is where the vast majority of active Gandhians preside, especially those with deep connections to the Gandhian movement, and not just inspired by it. I say active, because they are not just ideologically committed to Gandhi’s ideas, but are also acting upon them in various ways. Therefore, it was the logical place to conduct interviews. Although, there are other Gandhian groups operating around the world, I include information from two interviews at a Gandhian centre in the USA.

Participants were contacted through a snowball sampling method. The information gained cannot be seen as fully representative of Gandhian practices. However, this was not deemed problematic for an exploratory study. To contact some interview participants, I used existing activist contacts to find other contacts. I also got the names of potential participants by contacting a handful of anarchist and Gandhian organisations within and outside of India. These two methods resulted in me contacting about half of my interview participants. From the list of names I generated, I visited as many participants as I could, within the realm of possibility given financial and time constraints. The other half came from making contacts on the ground while in India, and then setting up interviews from there.

Throughout this process, there was an active attempt to get a gender balance, and representations of minorities, within the countries visited. This was not done with as much success as I would have liked. In short, I think the reason for the imbalance was due to a combination of barriers to access, and an imbalance of men to women who tick all of the boxes of both openly subscribing to a Gandhian worldview or being a follower of Gandhi and being fluent in English and having access to the technology that I used to contact them (mostly via the internet) and residing somewhere where I could go and meet them. For example, I had multiple offers for interviews in areas that I simply could not get to for financial, time, but mostly logistical reasons, as explained below. It is also likely that there are larger numbers of men in higher positions within many of the organisations that I contacted, and I got referred to people at the top of the organisation more often than not when I contacted them. I simply did not get as many responses to my interview requests from as many women as men. Having said this, I believe that now I have more contacts in India in particular, and if I went back now I would be able to find more women who may want to be participants in a similar research project. In the interviews I am using here, there are the voices of two women and ten men.

In no particular order, here are some brief overviews of who the participants in this research are.[51] The interviews in the USA were conducted in March 2016 and the interviews in India were conducted between December 2016 and February 2017. Ethics approval was gained for the research with these participants, and the research process, from The University of Otago Human Ethics Committee. If some of the details of their work – people, places and terms – are unfamiliar, they will be expanded upon in the coming chapters:

  • Dilip Simeon is a Labour Historian and public intellectual. He is a trustee of the Aman trust, and was previously a senior research fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. He has also taught as a visiting scholar at multiple university institutions, including Surat, Sussex, Chicago, Leiden and Princeton. He has also worked on conflict-mitigation projects with Oxfam. Dilip is also author of the novel, “Revolution Highway”, and was a participant in the first phase of the Naxalite movement.

  • Shri. A. Annamalai is the Director of the National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi. The Museum is a resource Centre for Gandhian and related studies, that aims to preserve and promote Gandhi related resources.

  • Tridip Suhrud, at the time of interviewing, is an intellectual serving as the Director of Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. He is now the Professor and Director of CEPT University Archives, Ahmedabad.

  • Dr. Usha Thakkar is President, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. She retired as Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. She has done postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago on Fulbright Fellowship and at Cornell University on Sr. Fulbright Fellowship and at York University (Canada) on WID Fellowship from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. She was also Visiting Fellow at Sheffield City Polytechnic, UK. She has been Vice-President, Asiatic Society of Mumbai, and also of Banasthali Vidyapith (Deemed University for women), Rajasthan. Her research areas are Gandhian Studies, Women’s Studies, and Indian Politics. She has presented papers at many national and international conferences and has contributed in many prestigious journals. Her publications include Gandhi in Bombay (co-author), Understanding Gandhi (co-edited) and Women in Indian Society (co-author), amongst others. She is connected with many educational institutions.

  • Rajiv Vora is a writer, scholar and activist. He is the founder and chairperson of the Swaraj Peeth Trust. Swaraj Peeth is, in their own words, “a non-profit organization engaged in demonstrating the inspirational power of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision, thought, and method.”They are “a Gandhian center for nonviolence and peace, work for Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Swaraj – Home-Rule or Self Rule based on culture of nonviolence or cultural democracy — through building a community based nonviolent social force called Gandhi Shanti Sena; organising public dialogues, training in nonviolence and education programmes for creating swaraj awareness in various areas of life” (Swaraj Peeth, 2017). Swaraj Peeth is currently focused on peace work in Kashmir and Bihar, amongst other places. Formerly, Rajiv was an editor of the Gandhi Marg (Hindi) journal. He was heavily involved in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Bihar Movement. He has a background in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping through his Shanti Sena work and work with Nonviolence Peaceforce.

  • Yogesh Kamdar is a human rights activist and National Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which was founded by Jayprakash Narayan. It is the oldest and largest Human Rights group in India.

  • Anand Mazgaonkar is an activist and a national convenor of the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM). NAPM is an organisation focused on developing decentralised democracy. Anand has worked on many issues around environmental and social justice. He is also a member of a collective called Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS).

  • Sandeep Pandey is an activist and academic. He is the founder of a group called Asha for Education, a leader in NAPM, and Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He has led multiple significant peace marches to work against nuclear weapons and for peace between India and Pakistan, amongst other issues. I met him as he was a visiting academic at the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar.

  • Daniel Mazgaonkar is an activist and was a full-time member of Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement, along with his wife, Hansa. After settling in Mumbai, Daniel continued to dedicate his life to the movement, going door-to-door selling literature, and living on donations. He was also heavily involved in Jayaprakash Narayan’s nonviolent movement, spending time in prison during this movement. He is the founder of the Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre. His son is Anand Mazgaonkar (mentioned above).

  • Kumar Prashant is the Chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, a major Gandhian institution based in Delhi. It is focused on study, research, communication and action, in line with Gandhian ideals.

  • Michael Nagler is the founder of Peace and Conflict at UC Berkeley, where he is Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature. He is the founder of the Metta Centre for Nonviolence, which works on promoting, assisting and envisioning a nonviolent future. In 2007, he was given the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for “Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India”. He is also involved in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, and writes and speaks on nonviolence frequently. He is based in California, and is one of two interview participants who reside in the USA.

  • Stephanie Van Hook is the Executive Director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. She is an educator trained in Montessori Early Childhood Education. She writes regularly about nonviolence and Gandhi, and hosts a radio show about nonviolence. She was a member of the Peace Corps. She is based in California, and is one of two interview participants who reside in the USA.

Challenges to this research

Before ending this chapter, it is important to note some specific challenges that arose while conducting this research. There are a number of factors specific to the case selection, which provide additional limitations to the ones I have already mentioned. I will discuss some of them throughout the following chapters, but feel it is important to introduce them here. First of all, there is a large research gap on aspects of the Gandhian movement that this research is concerned with. This gap has two elements. First, there is next to no research on Gandhian institutions from Gandhi’s time until now, despite there being a wealth of knowledge on the Indian independence movement and on Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. Second, there is very little work that explores the movement post-Gandhi’s death, and even less post-1985, after the end of the last mass mobilisation by Gandhians against the state. For now, I wish to point out that this lack of information and data gathering presented challenges for analysis, as there is little up to date information to put many of the research findings from the interviews into discussion with. I have no doubt that more information on these key aspects of the movement — data and analysis – exists, but I did/do not have access to it for a variety of reasons. I will now discuss these.

The first challenge I confronted was that I had a lack of access to some key information during my preparation for fieldwork. I was not able to access a lot of relevant information until I arrived in India and started to talk to people and visit Gandhian groups and institutions. There are multiple consequences to this that affect the depth of the research. The first is that I did not get key information on the movement post-Gandhi’s death until I accessed books printed in India. I have mentioned above that some key texts are difficult to access, even through a large university such as the one through which I conducted this research, and this was especially true of a large amount of the writing of Gandhi’s prominent followers post-independence. If I had accessed this sooner, I would have had more information to inform my interview questions and I may have found other organisations and people to talk to during my limited time in India. A second and related barrier is my lack of language skills, which meant that I could not read books or reports written in Hindi or Gujarati, for example, or effectively communicate with everybody I met while I was there.

The most significant barrier was in terms of time and finances. In the seven weeks I had in India, I could not get to some key sites for interviews, such as the Ashrams founded by Gandhi’s close follower, Vinoba Bhave, or one of Gandhi’s key Ashrams, the Sevagram Ashram, in Wardha, Central India. I could not spend time in the villages (an early aim), as by the time I had made contacts, I needed to be able to travel elsewhere in the country for other interviews, or get back to Delhi to catch my flight home. I had to turn down substantive interviews in South India, again because time and financial constraint did not allow me to go. India is a large place, and much of it is not easily accessible. Attempts at prearranging interviews via email were very difficult, and people who I did contact, understandably, asked me to ring them when I arrived in India or in their city or town. In addition to this, many Gandhian websites are broken, old, or do not contain key information in English. Some email addresses that I used were out-dated, some gave no reply, and even when I rang some phone numbers of relevant institutions, the connection was often too bad to communicate and/or language barriers, again, got in the way.

Possibly the most significant restriction in this research was my inability to explore archives and libraries, which undoubtedly held relevant information. I went to institutions that would have had valuable data and reports for understanding the anarchistic elements of the Gandhian movement: Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram has an archive; Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi launched his first nationwide movement and where he stayed while he was in Bombay/Mumbai had a library; The Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi holds much knowledge, but I only managed to arrange one interview there at the end of my trip. Gujarat Vidyapeeth, the university founded by Gandhi, clearly also held a wealth of knowledge. At some of these institutions I was welcomed to come back and explore, however, there simply was not time, and I did not have funding to go back to India for a second research trip. The possibility to do this is there in the future.

In short, my seven weeks in India was only enough to start scratching the surface. On reflection, it was an extremely helpful visit to establish contacts and hold preliminary explorative conversations. However, these could certainly be built upon subsequent, hopefully longer, research trips. When I also take into account two very slow weeks due to food poisoning, which was severe enough to put me in hospital, issues with arranging travel and cancelled travel, and issues due to the government demonetisation campaign that was in full swing when I arrived – I believe that I achieved as much as I possibly could in this time.[52] Despite these drawbacks, I did gain much valuable information from my interviews and resources I picked up while in India, as I hope to show in the following chapters. A return trip is likely needed to add more to the preliminary conclusions that I can make from this research.


In this chapter, I have outlined the method of this study and the case inclusion. I have also outlined some limitations to the research approach, as well as limitations that are specific to this piece of research and the case selection. I will now explore the case in four chapters. In the next, Chapter Five, I outline the history and philosophy of the movement. In Chapter Six, I explore the Gandhian vision for a nonviolent stateless society built on nonviolent village republics. In Chapters Seven and Eight, I bring in the interview data as I present and discuss the key themes that emerged out of the interview data. This will lead onto a set of conclusions to finish the thesis.

Chapter Five: Gandhi, Sarvodaya and Nonviolent Experimentation

For me nonviolence is not a mere philosophical principle. It is the rule and breath of my life.

— Mahatma Gandhi (2005 [1928], p. 34)

The full implementation of gramdan means that whatever one possesses should be put at the disposal of the community as a whole. It will not work if some are expected only to give, and others only to receive. The principles and standards of dharma apply to everyone. Truth is for all alike, and so is compassion.

— Vinoba Bhave (2005, [1957], p. 36)

Over the next four chapters, Chapters Five through Eight, I will explore the Gandhian approach to creating a nonviolent, stateless, society. Each chapter will provide the foundation for the next. In this chapter, I will very briefly outline Gandhi’s life work, along with that of two of his primary followers who were the most prominent members of his movement after his death, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan.

This chapter is simply an introduction to Gandhi and the Gandhians. It will provide the basis for the next chapter, Chapter Six, in which I will outline the Gandhian vision for a nonviolent social order based on non-hierarchical village republics and the constructive programme. I do this by drawing on the perspectives of Mahatma Gandhi and one of his key followers, Vinoba Bhave, by summarising key points from their writings. In both of these chapters, my aim is to highlight and summarise the Gandhian anarchistic blueprint for a nonviolent society, along with the philosophy that informs it, rather than offering an in-depth analysis of the Gandhian approach to creating a eudaimonious peace or sarvodaya (the welfare of all).[53] A key reason for this is, as I have alluded to, because Gandhi’s vision of what a peaceful society would look like, and the actions he and his followers took to make this become a reality, is either neglected or at least not emphasised in many discussions of Gandhi or nonviolence. This is an effort to desubjugate Gandhian anarchism. In Chapters Seven and Eight, I introduce the modern day thought of the interview participants; their reflections on the past, their action now, and their thoughts on the future.

This chapter will have two parts: First, for those who are unfamiliar, I will offer a very brief overview of Gandhi’s life and his contribution, as well as that of two of his most influential anarchistic followers, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan. Second, I will highlight some key concepts of Gandhian thought. This will give a foundation for the discussion of the Gandhian plans or action points for creating a nonviolent society, or, as Vettickal (2002) writes, for “realising a realistic utopia”.

The Mahatma, Vinoba and JP

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, often referred to as Mahatma (“great soul”) or Bapu-ji (“father”), was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, West India, on 2 October 1869. He received an education, was exposed to Hindu and Jain teachings through his mother, and was married to his wife, Kasturba Makhanji, when they were both thirteen years old. In 1888, Gandhi went to London in order to become a lawyer. After promising to his mother to not eat meat, he lived off very simple food before discovering the vegetarian society, of which he became an active member. After initially wanting to become an English gentleman, and spending his money on fancy clothes and dancing lessons, Gandhi started to live an increasingly simple life (Gandhi, 1993 [1925–1929]).

After returning to India, Gandhi quickly took a job at a law firm in South Africa. He experienced racism first hand on multiple occasions, and after seeing the unjust treatment of his fellow Indians in South Africa, he launched and led his first mass nonviolent campaigns (Guha, 2013). During his time in South Africa, he set up two intentional communities, ashrams, called the Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm. Establishing the Phoenix Settlement marked a new part in Gandhi’s life where he quit being a lawyer and started on a different path, living to his ideals, which were now starting to fully develop (Shah, 2009, p. 15). Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa helped to mould the Gandhi we see in India, and it was in South Africa that his followers named him Mahatma.

Gandhi’s thought developed as he combined his personal experience, his knowledge of Indian thought, and the influence of other thinkers, such as Tolstoy (whom he corresponded with), Ruskin and Thoreau. This resulted in the solidification of his thought and life mission, as explained in his book, Hind Swaraj (home rule) , in 1909. Hind Swaraj, the Sarvodaya movement’s manifesto, discusses the “freedom Gandhi aspired for India”, which would be based upon “love and spiritual strength as the dominant agents in the world” (Shah, 2009, p x, p. 4, p. 6). Gandhi (2015a [1908], p. 129) ends Hind Swaraj by stating that, “I have endeavoured to explain it [swaraj] as I understand it, and my conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.”

Gandhi returned to India having spent 21 years in South Africa. His image on return was strikingly different, having transitioned over time from wearing a British suit, to khadi (home-spun) clothing, aiming to live like the majority in India, as he committed himself to embodying what he preached. After his return, he quickly became involved in nonviolent resistance movements, leading a variety of campaigns. In 1917, in Champaran, Bihar, he organised a nonviolent resistance campaign with oppressed Indigo workers, at their request (Gandhi, 2007, pp. 190–205; Wolpert, 2002, p. 88). A year later, he led campaigns with mill workers in Ahmedabad, and then with peasants in Kheda (Gandhi, 2007, pp. 195–198; Wolpert, 2002, pp. 92–95). After this, the campaigns he was involved in quickly went from regional to national, uniting large numbers in nonviolent resistance to British rule.

His first nationwide struggle came in 1919 where he mobilised people against the Rowlatt Act (Thakkar and Mehta, 2017; Parekh, 1997, pp. 11–12; Chadha, 1998, p. 233; Wolpert, 2002, pp. 99–114). The act would have effectively allowed the British to make the state of emergency laws permanent. This led into the non-cooperation movement for swaraj. More campaigns followed, along with multiple prison sentences. Campaigns focused on removing untouchability; on boycotting British cloth; the famous Dandi Satyagraha (salt march) (Dalton, 1993); and protesting India’s participation in world war two. A range of nonviolent campaigns produced great force against the British rulers, as Gandhi called for a campaign of “do or die” in 1942. He said (1999b [1942], p. 197): “Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is: ‘Do or Die’. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.”

Gandhi’s main struggle was not against the British, but against violence. He made a distinction between British people and British Imperialism (Gandhi, 1999b [1942], pp. 189–206). As he challenged the British, he also challenged violence in Indian society, rejecting untouchability, violence towards animals, and exploitive production. He acted against communal violence, multiple times committing himself to fasting unto death, and walking from village-to-village and town-to-town trying to quell it.[54] He set up educational institutions, including Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad. He established more ashrams, notably Sabarmati Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, and Sevagram, in Wardha, Maharashtra. He founded multiple village industry associations, and aimed to join them in a network towards the end of his life (Gandhi, 2007). He envisaged a peaceful society, built on non-hierarchical democratic villages (Mantena, 2012a). This will be outlined in the next chapter, and the institutions he set up were part of a step-by-step plan to achieve this.

At the moment of independence, on 15 of August 1947, while most other independence leaders were celebrating in Delhi, Gandhi was absent. The Mahatma spent the days preceding independence walking barefoot through Bihar, working against the communal violence that had erupted with partition. On the day of independence, he was on a hunger-strike, attempting to quell the deadly violence in Calcutta that had been going on in the city for months between Hindus and Muslims. He did not stop and celebrate independence, as his work had not been achieved. India, through partition, centralisation and industrialisation, was not heading towards the nonviolent society he sought, and shortly after independence, on 30 January 1948, the 78-year-old Mahatma Gandhi, in the words of his grandson, Ramchandra Gandhi (cited in Gandhi, 2007, p. 14), “stopped three bullets on their deathly trajectory of hate”, when he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist.

Before his assassination, Gandhi had organised a meeting at the Sevagram Ashram to discuss the future of the constructive work organisations that he and his followers had founded. At the meeting, he had planned to discuss whether there was “a dividing line to be drawn between those who had entered public office and those who continued to do constructive work” (Gandhi, 2007, back cover); between members of the movement of resistance to British rule who took the path of the state and those who opposed it; those who favoured centralisation and those who worked for decentralisation; and those who worked in political parties and those who rejected political parties. The meeting went ahead one month late, without the Mahatma. On the side opposing the state and working for Gandhi’s vision of peace through decentralised but non-hierarchically connected, anarchistic villages, were, amongst others, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan. Both would go on to lead significant nonviolent people’s movements under the banner of sarvodaya in the following years. I will refer back to this meeting in the next chapter, as it determined the structure of the sarvodaya movement going forward.

After Gandhi’s death, the “spark [that] ignited the tinder of nonviolent revolution”, the next phase in the mission to create a nonviolent India came in 1951 when the Bhoodan (“land-gift”) movement was born (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 5). In a village in Andhra Pradesh, Vinoba was asked by a group of landless Dalits (“oppressed” , refers to people who were/are labelled untouchable) to help them acquire land for their subsistence. He immediately turned to the people in the village meeting and asked if anyone would give them land (Vettickal, 2002, pp. 191–192). In response, a man gifted 100 acres. This took Vinoba by surprise, as shown by this quote taken from his memoirs (Bhave, 1994 [1986], p. 136):

What was this? People murder for land, go to court over land, yet here it comes as a free gift. This was something so completely out of the ordinary that it must surely be a sign from God! All night long I pondered over what had happened. It was a revelation – people may be moved by love to share even their land.

In response to this incident, Vinoba walked from village to village, gathering land donations and distributing them to the landless. His followers started to do the same, collecting and redistributing more and more land. Yearly sarvodaya conferences, which Gandhi’s followers had agreed to organise at the meeting in Sevagram, followed Vinoba, meeting wherever he happened to be. He covered 7500km in 4500 days (Vettickal, 2002, p. 192). The movement gathered over 50 million acres in 6 years (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 6), and more in the years that followed.

Bhoodan then led to Gramdan (village-gift). Mehta (2004, p. 128) writes of this transition, “the first step of bhoodana was ‘let there be no landless person in the village’ and its last step is ‘let there be no owner of land in the village’. Gramadana is based on this proposition.” Gramdan was achieved when at least 75% of landowners donate 50% of all land to the village, to be owned communally (Linton, 1971, p. 172). All adults can then hold trusteeship over it. Gramdan was a way of laying the foundation of Gandhi’s vision of village republics. It aimed to change the power structures of the village, and lay the foundation for revolution. Vettickal (2002, pp. 195–196) writes that in the first half of the 1960s, 6000 of the 550000 of the villages in India, most of them poor, had committed to gramdan, and this rose to 30 percent of all villages in 1971 – a hugely significant feat. This will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter.

Vinoba was carrying out what Gandhi wanted (Shah, 2009, p. 118). He was breaking down the concept of private property, working for communal ownership, “aiming for the reconstruction of man and society” (Vettickal, 2002, p. 192). Bhoodan and gramdan led to a series of other gift movements: sampattidan (wealth), sadhnadan (things), buddhidan (intellect), jeevandan (one’s life to the movement), shramadan (labour), and sutranjali (hanks of yarn) (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 16; Vettickal, 2002, pp. 193–194; Bhave, 2005 [1957], pp. 32–33). The aim was to get people to give for the welfare of all in any way they could.

The movement was clearly a phenomenal achievement, although there are criticisms about how the programmes were enacted, which arguably limited success. By 1974, the bhoodan movement had slowed and stopped, while the constructive work programmes continued (Harris, 1987, p. 1040). Three key criticisms of the movement are that: (1) Vinoba did not successfully follow through with mechanisms to solidify gramdan in the villages, leading to a range of experiences (to be expanded on in the following chapters); (2) He rejected creating political parties but may have been too willing to work with current political parties and politicians who used him; and (3) He avoided Gandhi’s confrontational tactics, nonviolent resistance, using only one part of Gandhi’s method (Vettickal, p. 198–204). Also, some thought that working to make change on the local level only will not bring the society they seek; hence, the differing approach of Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan (Harris, 1987, p. 1051).[55]

Jayaprakash was drawn to the bhoodan movement’s success, he himself gathering 7,000 acres (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 7–9). He called for youth to join the movement. Unlike Vinoba, JP embraced the confrontational side of Gandhi. His Marxist and socialist background, along with his resistance activities in the push for independence, which preceded his commitment to sarvodaya, gave him the image of a political figure, compared to the saintly image of Vinoba. He also drew intellectuals to the movement, and encouraged academic scrutiny (Harris, 1987, p. 1041). Vinoba and JP got on well (Mehta, 2004). Some people argued that they complemented each other, with their differences leading to different emphasis in their actions and speech-making in their drive for revolution (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 10). Others argued that they were weaker than Gandhi, who embraced both resistance and constructive work together in his life. This is a point that will be picked up again throughout the following chapters.

Jayaprakash is well known for his role in “the emergency”, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency for twenty-one months between 1975 and 1977, ruling in an authoritarian manner.[56] The Bihar movement, a movement started by students in the state of Bihar, aimed to create a total revolution, and asked JP to act as their leader (Kapoor, 2016). The movement went national, increasingly challenging Indira Gandhi and eventually ousting her. As part of this, JP decided to unite opposition parties against her under the banner of one new party, thus compromising the sarvodaya movement’s principled politics without parties. This was a pragmatic decision he viewed as being necessary to overthrow the authoritarian government. Vinoba and some of Vinoba’s supporters protested the move, but most of the sarvodaya movement sided with JP (Harris, 1987, p. 1041).

The Sarvodaya Movement

JP died shortly after the emergency, aged 79, on 8 October 1979. Vinoba died aged 87 on 15 November 1982. Despite the size of their contributions, it is curious that their names are seldom mentioned in Western anarchist or pacifist writings. Little has been written about the sarvodaya movement since their deaths, at least in English. While it is clear that they did not reach their aim of total revolution, Gandhi, Vinoba, and JP give examples of resistance and partially enacted plans for a nonviolent society that were practiced on a scale that few anarchist, pacifist or anarcho-pacifist movements could compare to. The movement does go on in various forms, still on a scale larger than most anarchist movements today.

Considering the size of the movement, it is striking how little information is available, as I alluded to in the last chapter.[57] Estimations of the size of the movement after Gandhi’s death are fairly consistent, in English language sources, placing the number of India’s villages that had committed to gramdan by the 1970s between one quarter and one third of all the villages in India (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 24; Vettickal, 2002, pp. 195–196). Ostergaard, whose studies (at least within the English language) are the most comprehensive, puts the size of the movement in 1969 at 140,000 gramdan villages (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 24). From this, we can assume that participation in the movement at this point was in the millions. The rapid growth of the movement can be captured from statistics given in previous years, which put the number of villages committed to gramdan at 2,000 in 1956 and 6000 in 1962 (Ostergaard, 1985, pp. 18–20; Ostergaard and Currell, 1971). To explain the significance of this in Western terms, in 1969, between one in three and one in four of India’s rural population had taken a position against the state and private property, and were seeking to create village communes along Gandhian lines. The ins and outs of what they were committing to will be outlined in the next chapter, but at this point, I merely want to point out that even the more conservative estimates show that the movement involved a very large amount of people.

The size of the national conferences of the sarvodaya movement also helps one to gage the size of the movement. 22,000 delegates and 200,000 spectators attended the 1969 sarvodaya conference. In front of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who attended as a guest, they declared a movement for statedan (state-gift), where they aimed to work to commit whole states to gramdan (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 27). The movement, at its height in the 1970s, started to achieve such high aims in the Indian state of Bihar. In 1971, Bihar’s population was over 42 million and it rose by ten million in the next decade (Ministry of Home Affairs India, 2007). Here, the sarvodaya movement achieved Bihardan. Villages over the whole state committed to gramdan, with 587 administrative blocks declaring for gramdan, and only 12 remaining undeclared (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 24; Ostergaard and Currell, 1971, p. 340). In this one state alone, millions participated. Unsurprisingly, it was in Bihar that JP’s movement against Indira Gandhi’s emergency was launched.

Ostergaard’s (1985) last study, published a few years after the deaths of JP and Vinoba, is the last major study available in the English language. Ostergaard and Currell (1971) and Ostergaard (1985) provide history and early surveys of the movements, focusing on the views and understanding of participants, but not on the ins and outs of village organisation. Linton (1971), alongside Ostergaard, offers the only other substantial overview of the movement, again, and I must add, at least in the English language. Her work is based on interviews with villagers in over 80 villages in eight states. These interviews took place between 1967 and 1968. Linton’s (1971) work is a broad study that offers a preliminary but expansive overview of the movement at that point in time – preliminary as she moves in and out of each village and area, surveying the movement as a whole, rather than the specific experiments in nonviolent living occurring in each village. Shepard (1987, pp. 11–39) also provides an overview of the movement, although it is only on part of his study. He also relays some interesting observations from some of the villages he visited (Shepard, 1987, pp. 81–122). I will return to these works shortly and discuss their findings further, as they offer the most comprehensive analysis of the movement under Vinoba and Jayaprakash’s leadership.

Other work on the movement includes Doctor (1964, 1987), who outlines Gandhi’s, Vinoba’s and Jayaprakash Narayan’s plans and then dismisses them as naïve. He does this as he adopts a Hobbesian position that power needs to be centralised to avoid chaos, which has commonly been used to dismiss anarchism. The approach from Vettickal (2002) is similar to Ostergaard, outlining the vision and history of the movement. However, it is not a study of the villages as such. Narayanasamy (2003) offers the most up to date published survey (again, in English at least), as he surveys over 250 sarvodaya workers, in 38 organisations, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India; but again, it is not a study of village processes, of how they are living nonviolently. Narayanasamy (2003) also offers a history of the movement. Ostergaard finishes his last study by stating that the movement was still sizable, although it was facing challenges (such as state intervention, which I will cover shortly). He even observes that the movement had an increased militancy (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 328). Shepard (1987, pp. 37–39) provides the last comprehensive report on the movement, writing that as of 1986, the movement was still divided, with Vinoba’s followers focusing mostly on a campaign against cow slaughter, and JP’s through revolutionary organisations. JP’s followers were focusing on 150, what they called “pockets” of sarvodaya workers (Shepard, 1987, p. 39). These pockets were calling themselves “centres for Total Revolution” (Shepard, 1987, p. 39). What exactly happened to the movement after 1987 is relatively unknown. Vettickal (2002) and Narayanasamy (2003) point to its continued existence. Nagler (2004, p. 191) states that, as of 2004, 1,200 Gandhian institutions were still running. The most up to date statistics on the number of gramdan villages still active comes from Shah (2011, p. 38) who writes:

Of the initial villages that went in for Gramdan, 3932 villages are still under the Gramdan law. Here the entire land of the village has been transferred from individual name to Gram Sabha’s name. But the society at large failed to appreciate the revolutionary step that had been taken.

Shepard’s (1987) opinion was that the movement was unlikely to be the force they once were while Vinoba and JP were alive, and this prediction appears to be true. However, it has not died, and as Shepard said at the time, then can provide guidance for future movements, which many of the interview participants in this research attest to. Despite the deaths of its leaders, Shepard (1987, p. 39) wrote, “the Gandhians are still a major force in the many communities in which they have settled for long-term efforts.”

As I have written in the previous chapter, and will discuss further in the conclusions, I have no doubt that more information is available and/or it is possible to conduct more research which focuses on these institutions, but it has proven to be inaccessible or impossible to conduct within the confines of this research project. In summary, there are two to three major gaps in knowledge when looking at the sarvodaya movement. The first is that there is no substantial academic analysis of Gandhian institutions, their successes and their failures. As Tridip Suhrud (2011), former head of the Sabarmati Ashram and scholar with expertise on Gandhi and other important Gujarati thinkers, and one of the interview participants in this research, states:

Satyagraha, ashram life, constructive programmes and institutions that nurture these three have been Gandhi’s enduring legacy. But it is the Gandhi of satyagraha that has been the focus of most studies on the Mahatma. We have no histories of the ashrams, his constructive programmes have mostly been reduced to khadi and village industries, and none of the institutions that Gandhi established or helped nurture have merited a scholarly account.

The second gap is linked to the first. While there is a lack of research about the institutions that Gandhi founded, here is even less when we look at Vinoba and the gramdan villages. We know that the experiences in villages varied, as I will outline shortly. However, there is little detail available about the movement as he led it, and how the communities he set up functioned. The third gap is that there is next to no up to date information on how these villages are functioning now, how many have continued to operate as anarchistic communities and how many have not.

I propose two possible reasons for the lack of information and scholarship. The first is that the Gandhian movement today, while still in existence, is not the major player it once was, and has never regained the political strength it had under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. The second is that Vinoba was concerned with the rural poor. This means, as interview participants in this research stated, that he did not gain much attention from the middle class, urban, intellectuals, let alone intellectuals from overseas. That which is available in English mostly discusses his thought rather than the political and communal structures he built. These facts have made this research process a confusing one, as the movement is difficult to observe, let alone critique.[58]

Most of the critique of the Gandhian movement focuses on the Mahtama, himself. The work on Gandhi himself, as opposed to histories of the sarvodaya movement which I have highlighted above, fits into multiple categories. The first category comes from the writings of his followers and admirers, which, while acknowledging shortcomings, are overwhelmingly positive (Gandhi, 2007; Hardiman, 2003; Wolpert, 2002; Dalton, 1993; Lelyveld, 2011). The second category is the writings of those who reject Gandhi’s nonviolence. There are multiple ways in which it is rejected. Some argue that Gandhi would not have succeeded if he were not facing the British (see Kurlansky, 2006, p. 169). This argument is often accompanied by writing that says that Britain was weakened by the World Wars and therefore gave up India. This work is often naïve about, ignores, or justifies the realities of colonialism and British power and violence. Orwell (1949) is a potential exception to this naivety, as he said Gandhi could not have been able to challenge the Russians.

A third category of work on Gandhi focuses almost exclusively on Gandhi’s thought rather than biography, and often on his individualism and his spirituality (Shah, 2009; Iyer, 1973). A fourth, related to the first and third categories but building upon them, argues that Gandhi’s nonviolence is a form of transformational realism that hold relevance in the modern day. It largely focuses on his politics rather than individual, religious or moral views (Mantena, 2012b; Devji, 2012; Jahanbegloo, 2013). A fifth looks at his nonviolent resistance tactics, and suggests a pragmatic rather then principled approach to nonviolence (Sharp, 1961; Weber, 2003). A sixth set of work challenges Gandhi’s position on the rights and uplift of Dalits (so called “untouchables”), and his disagreements with the Dalit leader, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (Roy, 2014). Finally, feminist critiques of Gandhi challenge him in various ways. These last two positions will be discussed at length in Chapter’s Six and Eight. None of this work comprehensively delves into the nature of Gandhi’s organisations, ashrams or other experiments into living nonviolently on a structural rather than individual level.

These critiques, when viewed collectively, paint a confusing picture of Gandhi and his achievements. They have led to many complementary and uncomplimentary visions of Gandhi: a saint, a flawed leader, an astute political leader, a nationalist founder of the nation, an out-dated figure, a contemporarily relevant figure, an anarchist, a conservative, a racist, an individual who was preoccupied or obsessed with sex and strange diets, a radical, and a reactionary. He could not have been all of these things, of course. This has led to Gandhi being a symbol that Prime Minister Modi, the leader of the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), can touch his head to, and anarchists and Indian socialists can also claim. It leads to a lack of clarification on who Gandhi was and what he stood for, and it is partly for this reason that I will return to Gandhi’s writings in the next chapter in order to outline his anarchist plan. Few efforts have been made to reconcile these different images, and many do not engage with Gandhi’s expansive writings (Finkelstein, 2012). This presents challenges when trying to understand Gandhi the man, let alone the movement and institutions he created. However, there is no such confusion around the ideology of his successors, Vinoba and JP.

Critiques of the Sarvodaya Movement

While I have selected this case for exploration, I do not wish to paint an uncritical, overly rosy picture of what the Gandhian movement was and is. It boasts considerable achievements, but like any movement, also has its failings and points to learn from. Now that I have outlined the available information on the sarvodaya movement and some of the difficulties of analysing and critiquing Gandhi, I will outline some critical reflection on the movement, from Gandhi’s death until Vinoba’s death. I focus on this period because it is here, after the British were kicked out of India, that the sarvodaya movement scaled up their activities that aimed to build the nonviolent village society. It is under the leadership of Vinoba and JP that we see a big push to create the structures of a nonviolent village society. To get an overview of both the successes and shortcoming of the attempts to create the village society that Gandhi was seeking, it is Ostergaard (1985), Ostergaard and Currell (1971), Linton (1971) and Shepard (1987) that offer the most insights. This is especially true of Ostergaard (1985). His book was published after Vinoba and JP’s deaths and after JP’s movement and contains the most in-depth analysis of the movement as a whole. Because of this, it captures more issues with the movement than other works.

Ostergaard (1985) points to multiple factors that hindered the gramdan movement and I will now list them. The first is that the sarvodaya movement, as a movement of India’s poor, had very little money to fulfil its needs, especially after India was decimated by British colonialism. When the British left, they left 80% of Indians living below the poverty line, after condemning many others to death (Tharoor, 2017; Mukerjee, 2010). Second, they had, at times, violent Maoist competitors in some regions which disrupted their plans (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 29). Third, the movement did not successfully spread from the villages to the towns (Ostergaard, 1985, pp. 30–31). It is unclear how much it tried to do this. We then come to the two most substantive criticisms which I will discuss further: fourth, the varying experiences of the implementation of bhoodan and gramdan; and fifth, divisions within the sarvodaya leadership post-Gandhi.

The experience of bhoodan and gramdan appears to have been very different in different places (Linton, 1971). Looking at the bhoodan movement, the quality of land varied, with a not insignificant proportion of it being unproductive for the needs of the landless.[59] On top of this, the distribution of the land was not always implemented effectively. As for the gramdan movement, while so many agreed to gramdan in principle, the experience of working the land communally varied. Legal titles were successfully changed in many villages, but not in all (Linton, 1971). Ostergaard (1985, pp. 21–26) states that this is partly because the movement was concerned with gathering new gramdan rather than consolidating the old; a situation not helped by their lack of resources. Shepard (1987, p. 95), however, points to the fact that the legal transfer was difficult because the transfer of ownership had to be recognised by the state, and delays due to this were sometimes “fatal”. There was inadequate follow up, training and support for some villages, even though villagers often reported a new outlook as they focused on projects that Gandhi had been promoting, such as village industries (Linton, 1971, p. 62). While significant improvements had occurred, many villages were still left a long way from evolving into the nonviolent village envisioned by the Gandhians after committing to gramdan (Linton, 1971). For example, the landless in some villages now had land, but were not integrated into the villages as the caste divides had not sufficiently broken down. It is unknown how most of the villages in Linton’s study developed after 1971.

Shepard’s (1987) study provides some insights into the nature of some successful Gandhian villages, over sixteen years after Linton. Shepard (1987, pp. 81–90) tells the story of Harivallabh Parikh, who set up a Gandhian people’s court to solve disputes in adivasi (“indigenous”) villages. Harivallabh was trained in Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram and by the time of Shepard’s study he was “overseeing development of 1,100 adivasi villages, totalling 1½ million people” (Shepard, 1987, p. 86). The court was given bottom up authority, from villagers, and had handled over 30,000 cases in 30 years, and its aim was to keep peace, not to punish (Shepard, 1987, pp. 86–87).

Shepard (1987, pp. 91–103) also recounts the experience of a gramdan village called Navodaya Danagram ( New-dawn Gift-village), which at the time had 50 families in it, living on 100 acres of land. This village appears to be a big example of success. It had new community buildings, a Gandhian school and community programmes, and communal farming, irrigation, and environmental protection initiatives. Village decisions were made by consensus in a village council that all women and men were members of. Villagers actively supported Dalits when they were attacked by outsiders, and demanded reparations afterwards. Shepard’s guide in the village, Radhakrishna Menon, was, like Harivallabh Parikh, trained in the Sevagram Ashram (Shepard, 1987, p. 94). While the village was mostly made up of Dalit families, they did not declare it a Dalit colony (which would bring government grants) because this would, in the words of Radhakrishna, make their work charitable rather than revolutionary.

As well as his experience in Navodaya Danaram, Shepard (1987, pp. 104–122) recalls his time with a village development group called the Agrindus Institute, headed by Prem Bhai. This was one of several hundred similar projects. The institute was active in mostly adivasi areas of Uttar Pradesh. Here, Shepard (1987) observed similar village experiences to what he had seen in Navodaya Danaram, albeit with some additional initiatives, such as family planning, and different challenges, such as those posed by moneylenders who bullied village members. The institute offered loans as an alternative to these moneylenders, with a 5 percent service charge to pay for staff and the programme. They offered this in 150 villages at the time of Shepard’s visit, and were aiming to expand to 400 – all the villages in the area that they worked. The institute was also prepared to lead villagers in nonviolent resistance to the government, but its main priority was removing “social faults” within the villages (Shepard, 1987, p. 121). These efforts were a stepping-stone to complete village independence, removing the need for any state functions. Shepard’s (1987, p. 122) one critique of these projects was that they “affect the outskirts of Indian society – adivasis, Harijan (sic) colonies, small mountain villages… villages [that] are already more unified than most.” This is a contributing factor to success, that may not be seen in more divided communities, which may speak to Linton’s (1971) observations in some of the less successful gramdan villages.

Different visions of the leaders, as seen by Vinoba and JP getting further apart in their ideology, also played a role, making the movement less cohesive (Harris, 1987, p. 1045). Gramswaraj was not consolidated when JP started his movement against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism, which concerned Vinoba (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 52). The key division between the leaders was around their emphasis – Vinoba’s emphasis on building the new nonviolent society and JP’s emphasis on using nonviolence to resist the current power structures. These are both issues that Gandhi had held in balance, but Vinoba and JP’s work leant in different directions. The issue of confrontation is an important one and seemed to confuse the movement throughout the 1970s. Ostergaard (1985, pp. 36–37) highlights this, referring to comments from a key Gandhian figure called Dada Dharmadhikara, before JP’s movement was born, who “charged the movement with being afraid – afraid of violence and afraid of class struggle.”

Within the gramdan villages that were not experiencing as much success as was hoped for, a key problem was often that an important landowner was not complying, despite overall village agreement (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 23). This is a situation that may have led Gandhi to use more forceful techniques if he was alive, which Vinoba was more reluctant to use. JP, on the other hand, excelled at resistance. However, while his resistance was successful in removing Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship, he possibly made mistakes when it came to replacing her. In building a coalition to oppose her he lifted up a range of parties across the political spectrum, including the right, and as he did this he possibly left the work to consolidate the gramdan villages to one side. How much of an option he had in this matter is debateable, as he was forced to respond to an increasingly authoritarian and powerful state or allow it to become more powerful. These are points I will discuss further in the following chapters, but it is important to note this division now in order to contextualise the information that follows. It is also important to note that some followers saw their differing approaches as complementary, not contradictory (Mehta, 2004).

Soon after the emergency, the sarvodaya movement was no longer at the head of the political sphere. In 1987, Harris (1987, p. 1036) wrote of the sarvodaya movement, “a movement that was once considered the guiding star for the future of India has been practically reduced to the status of a voluntary social work agency”. However, Harris (1987, p. 1052) also states that at that time, “…among [all] the volunteer agencies in India it is one of the most visible agents of ‘social gospel’ dedicated to the welfare of all… it is thoroughly convinced of its mission.”

When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she took revenge on sarvodaya, launching a commission to investigate, embarrass and restrict their funding (Harris, 1987, p. 1044). The commission explored charges that the government directed against the movement. These were: (1) destabilising the country; (2) 165 tarnishing the image of the Mahatma; and (3) taking foreign money. The second point is of particular interest, given the range of different perspectives on Gandhi outlined above. Here, we can see the state attempting to take Gandhi away from his closest followers, emphasise his independence struggle against the British which allowed for the formation of the Indian state, and downplay Gandhian anarchistic ideals and aspirations that conflict with the Indian state. Indira Gandhi’s aim was to turn sarvodaya into a non-political movement that was under the control of the state (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 328). Congress tried to buy off members of the movement, offering them “patronage and power” (Ostergaard, 1985, p. 328).

A unique and significant factor about the sarvodaya movement that must be mentioned is the lack of state intervention in the movement before JP’s resistance to the emergency. This could be seen as surprising, because large competing interests are not normally tolerated within a state, where the state is sovereign. There are three ways to explain what appears to be a delayed state crackdown. I present them as speculation, as it is difficult to know how much each point constrained state action. The first is down to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was and is held in extremely high regard by most of the Indian population. A crackdown on his key followers – in the decades following his role in the independence movement and after he was assassinated – was probably not possible without risking a backlash. The likes of Nehru marched side by side with Gandhi. Despite Nehru not sharing the Gandhian vision for society, their images were tied together. On top of this, while the sarvodaya leaders disagreed with Congress leaders, they maintained friendly interactions with them, just has Gandhi had done with many independence leaders during his lifetime. Vinoba even met with Indira Gandhi not long before JP’s movement, and greeted her like a friend. Vinoba and JP could not easily be dismissed in this political environment and for Congress to attack them would be seen as Congress attacking itself, pulling up its own roots.

The second point is that until JP’s resistance, the sarvodaya movement had not directly challenged the state. The state and the movement had been working on their agendas in parallel. It was not until the state was challenged that the opportunity could be seized to crack down on the sarvodaya movement and accuse them of tarnishing the image of the Mahatma. The third point is that the British Raj had left India poor (Tharoor, 2017). The new state had to consolidate itself, while also dealing with the partition between India and the newly formed Pakistan. In this context, the sarvodaya movement, by working to build more resilient communities that could produce what they needed with minimal outside intervention or support, was performing development work that the state needed. Radhakrishna Menon, in Shepard’s (1987, p. 96) study, alluded to this as he said that “In fact, we are a help to the local officials in meeting their quotas”, despite the fact that they would pressure officials when they did not deliver on things they promised. This allowed the movement to run in parallel to the state, because, at that point, development was what was needed and sarvodaya action both developed and stopped people from demanding more from the state. From this perspective, we can see how the movement was tolerated by the state, until it became seen as an increasing threat and until, under Indira Gandhi, the Indian state felt strong and secure enough to flex its muscles.

It is important to note that other external factors likely provided difficulties for the sarvodaya movement after JP’s resistance. From 1984, a government push to increase technology and modernise India was a blow (Harris, 1987, p. 1044). Sarvodaya now had to compete with the shiny allure of capitalism and its so-called development more than ever. As a result, the sarvodaya message possibly carried less weight with the population (Harris, 1987, p. 1045). The combination of factors presented, along with the death of its leaders, led to a significant decline in the movement’s power. Looking at the Gandhian movement now, it is clear that it has not achieved its goals. However, the goals were ambitious — a total revolution of a society with very limited resources. When this is considered, the movement’s size and achievements are remarkable, despite its failures. As I have already stated, there are more than one thousand Gandhian organisations operating in India today, 1,200 in 2004 (Nagler, 2004, p. 191), and more than 3,900 gramdan villages (Shah, 2011). However, from the outside, it is unclear how they function and what the actions and views of their members are.

The significance of the movement can be demonstrated further by comparing it to other historical anarchist movements. If we compare it to the Spanish Revolution, for example, the sarvodaya movement at its height was much larger and lasted for longer, even in the State of Bihar alone; although participation was almost exclusively in the villages. Despite the lack of accessible information about its size and activities now, it still appears to exist on a scale that is larger than most other movements that could be considered anarchist — for example, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas and the Murray Bookchin-inspired Kurdish Anarchist movement in Rojava. What it lacks when compared to these movements is a defined territory, which is significant, and has clearly been lost since Bihardan was announced in the 1970s. In this way, the consolidation of the movement could be seen as less successful than the Zapatistas for example, although this is hard to know without more research that explores the gramdan villages now being conducted. However, the continued existence of the Gandhian institutions does not appear to be under any direct threat from the state, unlike the anarchists in Rojava, for example, that are facing much more severe threats to their existence.[60] It is important to keep in mind that due to the lack of data available on the sarvodaya movement, these comparisons are very tentative – a key reason that this research is a preliminary and exploratory study.

Key Gandhian Concepts

In brief, I will now outline some key points of the Gandhian philosophy. Combined with an overview of the sarvodaya movement’s history, this is needed in order to understand the vision of the village republics laid out by Gandhi and his followers that I will outline in the next chapter. Gandhi’s worldview is the launch point for his actions. As with the above history of Gandhi, Vinoba and JP, I write “in brief” because Gandhi wrote a substantial amount over his lifetime and also modified his views over time. In fact, he starts his autobiography by expressing his reluctance in writing it, as his views may change (Gandhi, 1993 [1925–1929]). Gandhi wrote 98 volumes of work, at about 500 pages per volume (Gandhi, 1999c). Justice cannot be given to his thought, or the thought of the sarvodaya movement as a whole, in a few pages. However, I will attempt to draw out some key points.

In this thesis, I am really dealing with Gandhi’s thought from 1909 onwards, after the anarchistic vision he describes in Hind Swaraj. While much can be learned from his experiences in South Africa, it is his action and thought in India that really speaks to the theory described in the previous chapters: How to live nonviolently, and create a eudaimonious peace. Some key concepts found in Gandhi’s thought are: swaraj (home or self-rule), satyagraha (truth or soul-force), swadeshi (localness), satya (truth), and ahimsa (nonviolence). Along with this, it is important to be aware of his conception of modern society, which he was rejecting.

Swaraj is not just about freedom from the British, but rule over ourselves, the ability to control our lives, and self-control (Shah, 2009, p. 36). This emphasis on self-control makes swaraj different to freedom. It is about the empowerment of self, which comes from bettering oneself, an internal revolution, as well as the political, the external revolution. Also implicit in this concept is a rejection of holding power over others (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 23).

Swaraj is reached through satyagraha, which is soul-force, or love-force, an unshakable commitment to the truth (Shah, 2009, p. 37). This involves resistance, decolonising the mind, and doing what is right, which entails disobeying unjust rule/law, and being willing to take the consequences.[61] It takes huge courage, which Gandhi emphasised arguably above nonviolence, and a willingness to suffer. Finkelstein (2012) makes an important point that not many people read Gandhi, and therefore do not recognise his emphasis on courage. In an interview with Democracy Now in 2012 about his book What Gandhi Says, he says people just assume:

Gandhi, simple person, simple dresser, skinny, nonviolence, it is obvious what it means. But in fact, it is not obvious at all what nonviolence means for Gandhi… Gandhi valued nonviolence, no question about it, but he attached equal value and in some cases, you could say more value to courage… and he found nothing more despicable than cowardice.

Key to satyagraha is a willingness to suffer. This suffering is public, intentional and comes out of the commitment to truth (Vinthagen, 2015, p. 212). It breaks down barriers between the two sides to a conflict (Vinthagen, 2015, p. 213). Vinthagen (2015, p. 249) writes, “Gandhi’s view is that suffering is fundamental, rather than a background risk, and that it makes action that appeals to a utopia credible even to those who are suspicious or hostile.” In fact, Gandhi built his Sabarmati Ashram between a prison and a cemetery to emphasise his views on courage and suffering. A satyagrahi (a person who practices satyagraha) must be willing to be imprisoned without being fearful and to lay one’s life down in the pursuit of truth (Shah, 2009).

A satyagrahi acts on what they think is right and true, while upholding the dignity of others and not harbouring anger against them (Finkelstein, 2012; May, 2015). If you practice satyagraha and achieve swaraj, then, within yourself, you are fearless. The British or anyone else cannot take this away. You disobey unjust orders, challenge injustice and take the consequences. Do this, and you can no longer be a slave, and there cannot be a society of slaves.[62]

Underpinning a satyagrahi’s actions is duty. For Gandhi, a civilised society is one where people do their duties; importantly, Gandhi talks of duties rather than rights. Advocating for your rights was seen as being about self-assertion and gaining for oneself, whereas duties are about your commitment to others/all (Sarma, 1980, p. 218). Rights are about getting recognition from others, whereas duties are about the obligation of a satyagrahi, to oneself and the community, to act (Sarma, 1980, p. 219). This puts the emphasis on people to commit to what is true and to make changes, rather than expect things to be given.

Gandhi’s politics and actions were built on an anti-colonial foundation. He wanted to remove all forms of colonisation, not just the British. In fact, he does not even see the British, as such, as the problem. He argues instead against the modern civilisation that they brought to India, with its exploitation through capitalism and violence through the state. Along with this, and possibly most importantly, modern civilisation brings psychological violence: the grasping mind, the greedy mind and its love of money, the selfish mind, and the colonised mind that says that some people are worth more than others. He also articulated that while the British used violence, what kept them in India was the compliance of Indians, obeying them and working for them (Shah, 2009, p. 40).

Gandhi did not see any hope in modern civilisation. He emphasised that Indian civilisation was based on nonviolence, or had the potential to be, with its roots in the Vedas. Indian civilisation “elevates the moral being” as opposed to modern civilisation, which “propagate[s] immorality” (Gandhi, 2015a [1908]).[63] In India, it was indigenous Indian knowledge that would form the foundation for swaraj and nonviolence, ahimsa. A focus on Indian knowledge could help people overcome inferiority complexes that resulted from the colonised mind (Shah, 2009).

Another key Gandhian concept is swadeshi, or localness. The emphasis on swadeshi is partly because British rule, and with it the perceived “superiority” of modern civilisation, was sustained by stating that Britain was superior due to its administration, its technology and its medicine. Gandhi, by putting an emphasis on local knowledge, undermined the idea of British superiority while also undermining its ability to control and exploit India. Alongside this, he highlighted the exploitative nature of the technology that the British had brought with them.

For example, railways were installed to more efficiently loot India, not for its advancement (Gandhi, 2015a [1908]; Shah, 2009, pp. 63–67; Tharoor, 2017). Swadeshi, was about empowerment by preventing exploitation of people and the environment. It was about wellbeing, rather than profits and “efficiency”. Key to wellbeing was the ability for communities to be as self-reliant, or local, as possible. By its nature, swadeshi production is decentralised, which makes communities more self-reliant and harder to be controlled by foreign powers, as they can fulfil their own needs without looking elsewhere.

Gandhi’s commitment to satya, truth, underpins his whole philosophy. Religion or spirituality is vitally tied into Gandhi’s worldview. By using the word religion, I do not mean a commitment to a particular religion, but a commitment to truth, which Gandhi saw as synonymous with God (Mehta, 2004, p. 23). Gandhi saw God as a universal law rather than a personal being (Mehta, 2004, p. 24). To realise and embody truth and love is to attain God realisation. You could say: become God, become one with God, or to attain moksha, which can be described as liberation, release or freedom (Gandhi, 1993 [1925–1929]).

A commitment to truth, satya, and acting truthfully, is the basis of satya graha. A satyagrahi must “say ‘yes’ only when we must say ‘yes’ and only when we mean ‘yes’” and the same with ‘no’, whatever the consequences are” (Mehta, 2004, p. 22). This commitment is a commitment to not only speaking the truth, but to embodying truth in thought, speech and action. Satya, as Gandhi sees it, leads to a commitment to non-harm, courageousness or fearlessness, and justice. On this basis, Gandhi’s religion results in, or is based on, the tolerance of others, but no tolerance for injustice. This statement by Gandhi (2016 [1932], pp. 8–9) is worth quoting at length because it illuminates his position, and links it to some of the other concepts discussed previously:

In spite, however of such devotion, what may appear as Truth to one person will often appear as untruth to another person. But that need not worry the seeker. Where there is honest effort, it will be realized that what appear to be different truths are like the countless and apparently different leaves of the same tree. Does not God himself appear to different individuals in different aspects? Yet we know that He is one. But Truth is the right designation of God. Hence there is nothing wrong in every man following Truth according to his lights. Indeed it is his duty to do so. Then if there is a mistake on the part of any one so following Truth it will be automatically set right. For the quest of Truth involves tapas — self-suffering, sometimes even unto death. There can be no place in it for even a trace of self-interest. In such selfless search for Truth nobody can lose his bearings for long. Directly he takes to the wrong path he stumbles, and is thus redirected to the right path. Therefore the pursuit of Truth is true bhakti [love/devotion]. It is the path that leads to God. There is no place in it for cowardice, no place for defeat. It is the talisman by which death itself becomes the portal to life eternal.

Searching for truth leads to a respect for the other and a commitment to uphold their dignity, even when confronting them. It leads to openness to being wrong, and to find new knowledge, because, if you search for truth, you are open to finding truth. This is a radically different view to say, classical Marxism, or other schools of leftist thought, that claim to have found knowledge and therefore proclaim “truth” – a position that does not lead to the openness to the other that the Gandhian’s promote.64 In this way, Gandhi demonstrates a pure anarchism by not holding authority over others, by not trying to homogenise them into one way of being, and by not making himself or his group superior, as opposed to the Leninist vanguard, for example.

Gandhi also suggests that we can be contentious as we act to find out our own truth. A truth-seeker will trip up and learn along this path, eventually finding that each of our individual leaves of truth are connected to the same tree. Following this, logically, Gandhi’s position on truth suggests that any organised religion that opposes another religion, is irreligious, and that any politics of freedom or emancipation that claims superiority and tries to force others into its ideology is not about freedom at all. All religions have their place (Gandhi, 2015b [1962], p. 39).

One of Gandhi’s main concerns with modern civilisation is that it was leading to a loss of Truth/God, to be replaced by materialism and profitmaking, and in this process, humanity loses its morals. Spirituality brings with it morals; it brings truth. Ultimately, Gandhi believed that truth could only be realised through ahimsa (“nonviolence”) (Vettickal, 2002, pp. 91–92). Again, this is in thought, speech and action. Gandhi’s conception of ahimsa, is active. It is about love, not merely the lack of violence. As Vettickal (2002, p. 92) states, “Ahimsa, for Gandhi, is love; truth for him is God-realisation and self-realisation. This love has a very essential aspect to it: love in action.” When one selflessly commits to nonviolent social action in order to create sarvodaya, they become something other than themselves, and this is caused by one’s motivation of love. This brings us to truth, as we are all, in reality, interconnected. One who is violent, or professes to have the truth, or who acts primarily with anger rather than love, will have no reason to search for truth, and therefore will not be open to the other because they already have all of the answers ready to impose.[65]

To find truth, and enact nonviolence, Gandhi believed experimentation is essential. He even called his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. We cannot know how to best do things until we try, and we change ourselves in the process of trying. From this viewpoint, Gandhi set up a range of experiments. Some were personal. Gandhi had a series of eleven vows (See Appendix Two) that many of his followers took. Gandhi saw these as underpinning the nonviolent life of a satyagrahi. Others were communal, in the village, the ashram, or in collective resistance.


Up unto this point, I have given an extremely brief summary of Gandhi’s life and worldview. I have also provided an overview of the Gandhian movement; focusing mostly on the movement after his death, lead by Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. It is certainly insufficient if one wants to gain a full understanding of Gandhi. However, I have written this as a basis to discuss the Gandhian movement to create a nonviolent society or sarvodaya, as Gandhian proposals for change are based on Gandhian philosophy and the history of the movement. In the next chapter, I will outline the Gandhian vision of the constructive programme, and his plan for the village that would be the keystone of his vision of a nonviolent polity in India. Gandhi focused on action, and it is through his plans for the sarvodaya society that we get a practical insight in his anarchistic vision.

Chapter Six: The Sarvodaya Movement’s Stateless Society: Gram Swaraj and the Constructive Programme

My handling of civil disobedience without the constructive programme will be like a paralyzed hand attempting to lift a spoon.

— Mahatma Gandhi (2015c [1945], p. 36)

I have aimed at finding out how difficulties of every kind in the life of society, and in the life of the individual, may be overcome by nonviolence. This is my chief task… The things that happened in this country immediately after independence had dimmed the hope of nonviolence. Forces of violence showed themselves in India in great strength. After Gandhiji passed away I was therefore trying to discover how a nonviolent social order might be built.

— Vinoba Bhave (1994 [1985], p. 18–19)

We want the entire system changed; we do not want the ruling party to be simply replaced. My interest is not in the capture of power but in the control of power by the people.

— Jayaprakash Narayan (cited in Van Praagh, 2003, p. 155)

In the last chapter, I gave an introduction to the lives of Gandhi, Vinoba and JP, briefly discussed their attempts to build a stateless society, and introduced the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, on which the Gandhian movement is based. Here, I will focus on how the Gandhians, from the independence movement, until the death of Vinoba and JP in the early 1980s, conceptualised and partially enacted a nonviolent stateless society. To do this, I move away from purely philosophical positions of the movement, and outline how Gandhian thought was to be applied to political realities. The focus of this chapter is on the practicalities of creating a stateless society, or the materialisation of anarcho-pacifism, as envisioned and practiced by the sarvodaya movement, according to Gandhi and Vinoba. It is their conceptualisation of how anarcho-pacifism could be lived in their time and place. Here, I want to highlight their anarchistic vision. I aim to show how sarvodaya leaders wanted to operationalise the largely individualist philosophy of Gandhi, which I outlined at the end of the last chapter, on a communal level.

Specifically, I will look at: the economy, political organisation, education, defence of communities, and the uplift of those who are downtrodden.[66] I do this by drawing on key issues highlighted in Gandhi and Vinoba’s writings, partly because this is where the most accessible information is, and also as it removes some of this issues that are presented by the many images of Gandhi which conflict with the idea that Gandhi was aiming for an anarchistic society.[67] In the last part, regarding the uplift of people, I discuss criticisms laid against Gandhi and his actions to remove untouchability, and his engagement with women, both politically and in his personal life, especially in his later years. I do this, because it is these criticisms that have the potential to undermine Gandhi, and by undermining him, undermine his movement. This will lead onto the next chapter that will bring in the voices of those following in the footsteps of Gandhi today.

Situating the Gandhian Plan

At the meeting of the independence movement and Gandhian leaders at Sevagram mentioned previously, one month after Gandhi’s assassination, two organisations were set up to carry Gandhi’s vision forward. The first, Sarva Seva Sangh (“association of the service of all”),[68] was the joining of multiple Gandhian organisations, the All India Constructive Work Organisations, into one federation. The second, Sarvodaya Samaj (“society for the welfare of all”), was set up as an advisory body for the Sarvodaya movement, which would also help to unify the various constructive organisations (Ostergaard, 1985; Narayanasamy, 2003, p. 11). The Gandhians agreed to meet each year at a national Sarvodaya Sammelan (“welfare for all conference”). After this, with the leadership of Vinoba and JP, the Sarvodaya movement moved forward into the post-Gandhi era (Narayanasamy, 2003, p. 8), as the likes of Nehru went the other way, becoming Prime Minister of an increasingly centralised and industrialised Indian state. This meeting is a key moment, as it marks the push forward after Gandhi’s death to fully realise his vision, and the formation of a new post-independence organisational structure to assist with this.

Ostergaard (1985, pp. 4–5) writes that there are three types of Gandhianism: political, institutional and revolutionary. The political, expressed through Congress, is where some of Gandhi’s ideals were reached through conventional politics.[69] This is where we could place Nehru and his engagement with Gandhi during the independence movement. The institutional is expressed through the voluntary associations, forming and promoting the constructive programme, the modes of organisation that would form the basis of his vision of a nonviolent society.[70] The revolutionary, which Ostergaard says was expressed through Sarva Seva Sangh, works for the social revolution. Vinoba, while not well-known in the public sphere during the independence movement, was one of Gandhi’s closest followers who had lived in the Sabarmati Ashram for a number of years. He focused on constructive work, or institutional Gandhianism. JP, a former Marxist and activist who had joined the movement, focused on nonviolent resistance and revolutionary Gandhianism, both of which were interconnected and integral to the Gandhian movement (Weber, 1996, p xx; Mehta, 2004), although, as previously mentioned, not all agree that this split leadership helped the movement.

Gandhi’s life work was a combination of all these types of Gandhianism, but his push for revolution was based on revolutionary action, in his resistance to the British, and an attempt to build the new society that would replace the old when it was removed. A programme of total revolution — what the Gandhian’s were aiming for — needs resistance and a nonviolent social order. The resistance, as I have stated, fits with Vinthagen’s (2015, p. 12) definition of nonviolence as without violence and against violence. The social order is about living nonviolently together, with the earth and other beings, day-to-day. Given the aim of this chapter, I will draw much more heavily on Vinoba and Gandhi than JP. As demonstrated in previous chapters, the efficacy of nonviolent resistance, encompassed by Gandhi and JP’s resistance campaigns, has been explored much more than nonviolent alternatives to the capitalist-state.

Vinoba’s life, and Gandhi’s most important focus, was on the construction of the new society, based on the constructive programme. As Gandhi (2015c [1945], p. 36) said, “my handling of Civil Disobedience without the constructive programme will be like a paralyzed hand attempting to lift a spoon.” For Gandhi, both resistance and the building of new ways of being were necessary for the creation of a nonviolent society. He put equal weight on each, but as time went on, saw constructive work as the most important aspect of nonviolent action because it had the potential to form the basis of self-rule and self-sustainability (2015c [1945], p iii-v). It allowed for experimentation in how to live differently. Gandhi had spent much of his time in India opposing the British, thus being forced to divide his time between the project of achieving home-rule, as well as building the constructive programme. Taking the reins after Gandhi’s assassination, Vinoba did not have to deal with the British, and had a chance to focus more heavily on constructive work. Vinoba, “…is credited with giving Sarvodaya an organisational structure” (Harris, 1987, p. 1039).

The constructive programme is a politics of action, where people learn to live without centralised authority. They also make change themselves, without appealing to centralised authority. It is, as Nagler (2004, p. 160) writes, “where you create things and make corrections in and on your own community”. This sits comfortably alongside civil disobedience, which is also a politics of action, but, as Gandhi saw it, is about challenging an opponent on a particular issue (Gandhi, 2015c [1945]).

The constructive programme removes two things: First, the reliance, perceived or actual, on centralised authority; and second, the politics of demand, enacted by activists who engage in politics by appealing to those in authority to make change, ultimately reinforcing that authority.[71] The constructive programme underpinned civil disobedience. According to Gandhi, the purpose of civil disobedience is to support and advance the constructive programme. As Gandhi writes, “Civil Disobedience, mass or individual, is an aid to constructive effort and is a full substitute for armed revolt… Training for military revolt means learning the use of arms ending perhaps in the atomic bomb. For civil disobedience it means the Constructive Programme.” The constructive programme provides the ideology, the training, the confidence, and the physical support (shelter, food, etc.) for contentious action, and this action is used to further promote the constructive programme.

As I have made clear, the keystone of the sarvodaya leaders’ vision of an anarchistic society was the communal village. Gramswarajya (“village self-rule”) is the basis of Gandhi’s anarchistic nonviolent society. In this vision, power and production would be decentralised as much as possible. In other words, it is based on the principle of swadeshi. Gandhi (2015b [1942], p. 28) writes, “My idea of village swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity.” He also states (1999d [1946], pp. 371–372):

I have conceived round the village as the centre a series of ever-widening circles, not one on top of the other, but all on the same plane, so that there is none higher or lower than the other. Maine has said that India was a congerie of village republics. The towns were then subservient to the villages. They were emporia for the surplus village products and beautiful manufactures. That is the skeleton of my picture to serve as a pattern for Independent India.

In other words, the villages are interconnected, but not reliant on each other, and no group has power over another, as towns currently do over the villages. Within the village, power is bottom-up as people get to determine their own lives and what happens in their own village.

This village is an imagined village, based on the real villages of India. It is a vision of what India’s villages could become. The vision is realistic in that Gandhi recognised that there would be disputes or conflict in society, internally and externally to the village. However, he aimed for these to ultimately disappear, moving from gramswaraj to ramraj (“the ideal society” or “society of Ram/God”) (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 69). The vision is open to change and evolution as it can take on new ideas that are deemed helpful from other groups, as long as they fit with Gandhian values, as stated in the previous chapter. In this way, it is not an ideology but a framework, hence, Narayanasamy (2002, p. 9) writes that even Marxism can “find a place in its fold”.[72]

I will now attempt to outline key points of the Gandhian vision of how autonomous yet interconnected village republics would work, and the steps taken to enact it. However, it is important to first note that Gandhi recognised that the village plan would not necessarily be achieved right now, and given this, the aim was to reduce top-down power as much as possible and focus on the means that would eventually create the ends. Vinoba, in fact, envisions the transition to the stateless society in stages, as people will only gradually become self-reliant (Vettickal, 2002, p. 199). Gandhi writes (1999h [1946], pp. 129–130):

Would there be State power in an ideal society or would such a society be Stateless? I think the question is futile. If we continue to work towards the building of such a society, to some extent it is bound to be realized and to that extent people will benefit by it. Euclid has defined a straight line as having no breadth, but no one has yet succeeded in drawing such a line and no one ever will. Still we can progress in geometry only by postulating such a line. This is true of every ideal. We might remember though that a Stateless society does not exist anywhere in the world. If such a society is possible it can be established first only in India. For attempts have been made in India towards bringing about such a society. We have not so far shown that supreme heroism. The only way is for those who believe in it to set the example.

The root of gram swaraj is the constructive programme: a list of points to commit to in order for society to live nonviolently, which I have mentioned, but will now outline. The constructive programme is a set of base commitments that allow for both moral and material progress (Narayanasamy, pp. 19–20). Presenting them together, shows that action needs to be taken in multiple areas at once to create the nonviolent society (Narayanasamy, pp. 19–20). These areas include the uplift of downtrodden groups, developing new ways of living, new ways of producing, new pedagogy, and new ways of dealing with conflict.

In 1941, Gandhi (2015c [1945]) announced thirteen points of the programme, followed by another five in 1945. After his assassination, Vinoba added another five. Collectively, if we include Vinoba, the constructive programme consists of twenty-three points: Communal unity, removal of untouchability, prohibition, khadi (“home-spun cloth”), village industry, village sanitation, Nai Talim (“basic education”), adult education, uplift of women, education in health and hygiene, provincial languages, national language, promotion of economic equality, Kisans (“farmers/peasants”), labour, adivasis, lepers, and students. From Vinoba, we add cow protection, nature cure, bhoodan, gramdan, and shanti sena (“peace army”). Narayanasamy (2003, pp. 22–23) states that the list can be added too when needed. Various non-hierarchical foundations, collectives, and institutions have been set up in order to do constructive work along these points. Nagler (2004, p. 191) writes that, as of 2004, 1,200 institutions were still running. These voluntary institutions were increasingly linked together after independence, and the meeting at Sevagram.

Some of the points of the programme are self-explanatory. Points about the removal of untouchability, the uplift of women, kisans and adivasis are about empowerment of downtrodden groups and the removal of bigotry, racism, casteism, classism, and patriarchy. Others are about improving the health and cleanliness of the village. Others are about non-exploitative and empowering production and education. I will now discuss these points as the Gandhians envisaged them working in the village, focusing as much as possible on the practicalities: the “how”. I will do this under six headings of: (1) production and economy; (2) political organisation and decision-making; (3) village education; (4) the ashram; (5) village defence; (6) and the uplift of people.

Economics, Production and Work

There are six key points that outline the Gandhian view on the economy and production within the village. First, production should be for need, not profit. Second, centralised production leads to centralised power, which in turn leads to exploitation (Handa, 1985 [1979], p. 199). Therefore, production should be localised (kept in the village) as much as possible. Third, much modern machinery leads to, and is designed to, enable exploitation and should be rejected in favour of non-exploitative alternatives. Better still, we should utilise options that enhance people’s spiritual growth and do not harm the environment. Fourth, everybody should be involved in some form of manual labour. Fifth, is Gandhi’s concept of labour and the role of manual labour. Sixth, is that there should be trusteeship of objects and land, rather than ownership.

Gandhi’s views on economics can be summarised in this quote from Diwan and Lutz (1985, p. 13): “Never advocate actions or policies that lead to (‘economic’) material advancement at the cost of (‘non-economic’) social, moral, or spiritual impoverishment”. They continue (Diwan and Lutz, 1985, p. 19): “at the risk of sounding over simplistic, we may characterise Gandhi’s economics as a normative body of thought, focusing on the Self or Truth and its realisation.” Connecting to the first point, this means that an economy should have the purpose of fulfilling need and uplifting people, as opposed to profit, which is the purpose of a capitalist economy.[73] His economic theorising is based upon economic equality, and is to be practiced within the Indian village structures (Diwan, 1985a [1982], p. 90; Desai, 1985 [1981], p. 130; Huq, 1985, p. 78). It is important to note that Gandhi does not make the claim that these principles can be put into another economic system (Huq, 1985, p. 78).

The needs that Gandhi refers to are similar to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as discussed previously. These are basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. They are essential and foundational to wellbeing, everyone is entitled to them, and everyone in the villages should work so that everyone has them (Desai, 1985 [1981], pp. 136–137). Linking again to Maslow, you cannot achieve swaraj if you are hungry, if your basic needs are not fulfilled (Desai, 1985 [1981], p. 130). Gandhi did not want the development of luxuries because he saw them as counterproductive to “the development of a harmonious and nonviolent social order and, implicitly, in the moral and spiritual development of human beings” (Desai, 1985 [1981], p. 129). This creates unnecessary greediness, which puts us on a trajectory away from the nonviolent society.

The second point is about centralisation, and is tied to Gandhi’s emphasis on swadeshi. The centralisation of production leads to the creation of hierarchies of power and then to exploitation. Gandhi, agreeing with Marx, saw that centralised production also leads to alienation, adding to Marx’s conception of alienation, alienation from nature and the inner-self (Sethi, 1985 [1979]). The Gandhian view is that decentralised production reduces exploitation, empowers people, and allows for people to do a range of creative work around the village, not just one monotonous job. It prevents power being in the hands of a few (Gandhi, 2010a [1947], p. 10). It also allows people to be as independent and resilient as possible, as they can look after themselves in a sustainable way. This reduces the ability for any government or corporation, British or Indian, from being able to exploit them because, borrowing from Marxist theory, they do not need to sell their labour. Finally, it removes the need for people to leave the village for the city which, when it happens, leads to a depletion of the villages.

This decentralisation and localness, swadeshi, means that the production happens in the village, as much as possible, through village industries. Swadeshi is not a religion, and Gandhi recognised that some things would be better produced in some places than others, but advocated for production to be as local as possible. This includes food production, cloth production, soap production, oil pressing, building (using materials within a 5 miles radius), paper-making, bee-keeping, rice-pounding, and other necessary production (Gandhi, 2015b, 2015c [1921–1947]). Production becomes a creative process for all involved. Products are produced for need, not profit, so the production of a product does not need to be done more than is necessary. This makes production friendly to the planet, people and animals. This process should happen without money, with labour replacing currency, with the Sevgram ashram rejecting the use of money from 1952 (Srivastava, 1967, p. 211)

In producing all that they need locally, the village maximises indigenous knowledge as much as possible (Desai, 1985 [1981], p. 131). This includes using local medicine where possible, and using local technologies, such as the charkha (“spinning wheel”), which already exist, and are also non-exploitative, do not harm the planet or living beings, fulfil need, and are easy to acquire. In the context of the independence movement, the use of local production methods undermined the psychological colonisation, as the British suggested that their technology and ways-of-being were superior. The basis of swadeshi production is that the village can flourish without having to rely on the outside, thus eliminating the potential for exploitation from outside (Gandhi, 2015b).

This leads to point four, the criticism of machinery. Gandhi saw that much machinery, growing out of the industrial revolution, was effective at profit making, but was not contributing to flourishing (Shah, 2009, p. 61). It was negative in the ways already mentioned, namely, it was exploitative and took power out of people hands, as they had to, for example, buy British cloth rather than making their own. This does not mean that Gandhi was against all machines, but he believed that love should determine the use or rejection of machines (Shah, 2009, p. 62). If a certain machine was consistent with Gandhian values then it is not rejected. Much small-scale technology indigenous to India was seen as vitally important, especially the charkha, and there is much of it to be learnt (Dharampal, 2000 [1971]). This machinery did not exploit, or put people out of work (Gandhi, 2015b [1934] pp. 9–19).

The importance of the charkha to produce khadi should not be underestimated (Thakkar and Mehta, 2017, pp. 122–123). According to Gandhi, the charkha was the sun in the centre of the solar system of the constructive programme (Nagler, 2004, p. 166; Gandhi, 2014 [1938], p. 25). Gandhi had multiple reasons for saying this, and I will list a few (Gandhi, 2014 [1938], p. 24). The charkha allowed for self-sufficiency. It undermined the British cloth production and exploitation of Indian labour to produce cotton and dyes. It was non-exploitative machinery, as it was decentralised and done in the home, without the need for a centralised mill. It was relatively affordable for any village/person, unlike a mill. It was easy to learn. Spinning the charkha allowed one to focus, acting as a kind of concentration meditation, which was beneficial for the users’ wellbeing and spiritual progression. It gave meaningful work to people, producing something for the community. It could fulfil everyone’s need for clothing by everyone just spinning for a short while each day (Nagler, 2004, p. 168–173). It also acted as a symbol of swaraj, of “good-will and self-help”, and therefore its use was empowering (Gandhi, 2014 [1938], p. 23). The reinvigoration of Indian technology and production practices leads to the setting up of cooperatives and networks. In the case of the charkha, the All India Spinner Association helped foster and develop the practice across India. Here, we can see how just one piece of technology could have many benefits.

The fifth point is about the importance of manual labour for the creation of a nonviolent society. To fully understand Gandhian economics, how Gandhi saw the role of labour in the nonviolent society, is crucial. Sethi (1985 [1979], p. 220) identifies some unique parts to Gandhi’s theory of labour, compared to other theories. One is bread labour, performed by all to meet the basic needs of all, labouring with your own hands. Another is labour as part of self-actualisation. Last is that labour is seen as a way of assisting others.

Gandhi’s views on manual labour were developed after reading Ruskin, specifically Ruskin’s view that “Everyone’s work is equal because everyone has an equal right to exist”, and, that “a life of labour, i.e, the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living” (Shah, 2009, p. 14). Gandhi believed that working with the earth keeps us connected to the earth and aware of the process of production. Everyone in the village should do things that help the needs, as outlined above, of people in the community, and participate in the dirty work, such as cleaning the toilets. A process of everyone doing manual labour, of course according to their physical ability, is equality in action. Manual work and what it produces is not about your own welfare, but the welfare of all (Diwan and Lutz, 1985, pp. 14–15). It keeps everyone connected to one another. From a Gandhian perspective, separating the work of the intellect from manual work separates us from each other and leads to hierarchies and, again, exploitation. Gandhi’s emphasis on manual labour helps overcome this (Gandhi, 2010b [1947], p. 28).

This work for service also contributes to our spiritual growth (Diwan, 1985b, p. 118). Meaningful work for all gives people dignity and makes them feel needed and part of a community (Diwan and Lutz, 1985, p. 15; Desai, 1985 [1981], p. 129). Working for all includes giving non-material uplift to wealthy people (Diwan and Lutz, 1985, p. 15), again contrasting the Gandhians with European leftists. This is because the Gandhian aim is not simply economic justice, but the creation of a society where all flourish. To do this, we need to be concerned with all people’s needs.

Underpinning Gandhi’s views on labour is the concept of trusteeship rather than ownership or possession, which is the sixth point. Possession/ownership is in fact a social construct, and should be, according to Gandhi, completely abolished (Kapoor, 2006, pp. 199–200). Nobody is born owning things, and nobody can truly possess things, as someday they will have to let what they “own” go. When you remove the legitimacy of property and ownership of it, you are left with a society that is cooperative, sharing common resources, that no one person has a sole right over (Sethi, 1985 [1971], p. 221). However, Gandhi recognises that people do need objects and land to use in order to fulfil their needs and perform their jobs. Therefore, they become trustees over necessary items. You can have things as long as you need them, for your work, but then they are returned when you no longer need them. If you can do without something, then do not take it from the collective (Huq, 1985, p. 77). The same ethos applies to what is produced. Some may produce more than others, but in Gandhi’s economy you only take what you need (Desai, 1985 [1981], pp. 130–131). What you hold trust over is open for all in the community to see (Kapoor, 2006, p. 200).

In regard to renouncing possessions, Gandhi says that the wealthy may keep their wealth, but see their excess wealth as communal property (Kapoor, 2006, p. 200). This removes the “need” for the guillotine completely, or for kicking people out of their houses. The rich can stay in their homes, as trustees, eventually gifting their possessions back to the community. If people who are not wealthy become self-reliant in the village collective, the rich cannot continue to exploit them for profit anyway, leading to an inevitable change in social relations, but without violent conflict and without the same logic of eradication of the other which violent movements hold.[74] Also, with the commitment to trusteeship and non-possession, there is no need for the redistribution of wealth, as people are already getting all that they need, are not being exploited, and are living dignified lives. If somebody wealthy does not fulfil their duty, others will withdraw their cooperation (Gandhi, 2010a [1947], p. 10).

The key principles behind the success of the village economy are not stealing, and giving any excess to others. It is probably reasonable to assume that this doctrine, if enacted, would give people across society much more free time as less needs to be produced because there is no accumulation of profits, and much more limited production for self-consumption than in modern capitalism. Gandhians envisage these changes coming through action, participating in experiments in producing nonviolently, and again, these are experiments, to be modified as needed.

Political organisation

In terms of political organisation and decision-making, there are three key points. First, decisions are made through consensus, not majority rule. Second, some elected individuals in a village will serve on a panchayat (“village council”) which will communicate with other villages’ panchayats where needs be. Third, political parties are rejected.

Panchayats have a long history in India. In Gandhi’s vision, they form the basis of bottom-up power (Gandhi, 2010a [1947], p. 8). The British parliamentary system was essential for modern civilisation, and would be removed in the nonviolent society, replaced with panchayat raj (Shah, 2008 p. 70). The politics envisioned by the sarvodaya movement is referred to as lokaniti (“the politics of people”). Central government, such as the British parliamentary system, are the opposite of this as they make people dependent for their needs, which is the opposite of the principle of swadeshi (Shah, 2009; Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 46).

Gandhi suggested that panchayats would be formed in a public meeting (Gandhi, 2010c [1931], p. 6). They basically act as an organising committee, elected by consensus and changed at any time (Doctor, 1964; Gandhi, 2010c [1931], pp. 6–8). The people elected are known by sight to the people of the village, which is seen as necessary for genuine democracy (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 62). The panchayat can deal with matters referred to them but no villager is obliged to refer matters to them. The panchayat cannot impose any fines, it only holds a moral, nonviolent, authority (Gandhi, 2010c [1931], p. 7). Representatives from these panchayats will interact with other villages non-hierarchically, and voluntarily; “none is to be first and none the last” (Gandhi, 2010a [1947], p. 9: Doctor, 1964). Connections are made through the various constructive work organisations too, such as Sarva Seva Sangh and Sarvodaya Samaj, both mentioned earlier in this chapter. These organisations may advise villages, but it is up to the village if they take the advice (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 73).

Lokaniti is opposed to political parties. Parties lead to people taking sides and then promoting the interests of that side, as politics becomes a contest. This prevents dialogue, and does the opposite of bringing people together, instead, along with the election process, creating communal division (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 62). When a party is elected, it holds all the power, with no consideration or dialogue with others, meaning that Prime Ministers are not very different to the kings who preceded them (Bhave, 2015 [1962], pp. 53–63).[75]

Gandhi states that majority rule is tyranny, as the majority can then coerce all others, denying them their own swaraj, hence the commitment to forms of consensus decision making and voluntary participation. Dhawan (1946, p. 283) quotes Gandhi on this: “In matters of conscience the law of majority has no place” and, “The rule of majority has a narrow application, i.e., one should yield to the majority in matters of detail. But it is slavery to be amenable to the majority no matter what its decisions are. Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep.” Also, “The rule of majority does not mean it should suppress the opinion of even an individual if it is sound. An individual’s opinion should have greater weight than the opinion of many, if that opinion is sound. That is my view of real democracy.”

Village Education

All Gandhian village workers have a duty to organise education, “along the lines of Nai Talim (Gandhi, 2015b [1948], p. 215). Both Gandhi and Vinoba put an emphasis on the importance of Nai Talim (“new way” , basic education), with Vinoba dedicating considerable thought to the matter. Gandhi saw education as fundamental to creating change, and this led him to advocate for a total restructuring and refocusing of education (Vettickal, 2002, p. 165). Again, it would not be based on values of modern civilization, but would be an education that benefits the soul. In Gandhian education, work and knowledge are inseparable; learning is holistic; it is based on morals; and it should be free, as when a mother teaches a child language (Jayendrakumar, 1973, pp. 139–137).

Gandhi emphasised manual education, in line with the rest of the constructive programme, as it allowed people to support themselves and the village (Vettickal, 2002, p. 166). Vinoba expanded on this, developing his own pedagogy. Vinoba states that there is a difference between amassing knowledge and mental development, the first being the aim of modern/Western educational models and the second being the aim of the Gandhians (Bhave, 2014b [1956], p xi). This difference is what defines the Gandhian vision of education compared to many dominant western models, such as that brought to India by the British and presented as superior. Vinoba, emphasised in his book, Thoughts on Education (Bhave, 2014b [1956], p xi), that Nai Talim puts an emphasis on truth, practical skills and service, and this creates the potential for a society without divisions of rich and poor; for the value of each persons labour to be recognised, which has a spiritual as well as economic value; and for needs to be met in a self-reliant way.

Key points about a village-based educational system, expounded by Vinoba (Bhave, 2014b [1956]), are: (1) education should be an informal and natural process; (2) it should be joyous, which comes from the informal and natural process, but also through the encouragement to explore and through teaching based on the interest of the child, following their lead; (3) it should be practical, as much learning does not come from books but directly from experience; (4) education should be free to all; (5) there should be a focus on inward education, which is most important as it will allow for free thought and a happy mind, as well as outward education; (6) there should be no hard lines between home and school; (7) children should be educated in a way that means that they can be self-reliant in their learning in the future; and (8) children should learn a range of subjects, including multiple languages, sciences which will help remove faults in ethical and religious traditions, and social studies which teaches the good rather than evil from history and is critical of the faults of history.

In regards to the important of science, Vinoba explained it like this: politics plus science equals annihilation, whereas spirituality plus science equals sarvodaya (Narayansamy, 2003, p. 18). In the second equation, science is for the wellbeing of people rather than profit or war. In regards to the teaching of history, Vinoba says that students should read between the lines of history, looking for the unwritten history such as the positives that are not reported. Only essential points of history need to be taught, not the history of kings and power. Vinoba thought that learning the history of kings and power has a negative affect on society, as explained in this quote: “The fact is that in the name of history the thinking of whole peoples is being forced into particular molds, and as a result the nation is riddled with prejudice…” (Bhave, 2014b [1956], p. 146). In other words, histories of war, nationalism, and power only help to reinforce those things and are, therefore, not helpful.

In terms of how education should take place in the village, Vinoba suggested that formal learning only needed to take place for one hour a day (Bhave, 2014b [1956]); the rest of learning will happen through experimentation and helping with constructive work, such as the charkha. Education should also be available to all, including adults. In schools, following the model in the rest of the village, students should cook food for each other and clean the place themselves, serving each other (Jayendrakumar, 1973). Vinoba ultimately wanted a university in every village, as all should have the opportunity for education in their village, and should not have to rely on other towns to be able to gain this. Gandhi had set up universities based on sarvodaya principles (Gandhi, 2010d [1932], pp. 71–73). For example, he set up the Gujarat Vidyapeeth university, which was born-out of the Sabarmati Ashram and built just down the road from it.

The Ashram

The Ashram was used by Gandhi as a type of training ground where people would practice self-discipline and nonviolent living (Sarma, 1980, p. 223). Ashrams are spiritual communities. Gandhi describes them as, “…a community of men (sic) of religion” (Gandhi, 2010d [1932], p v). Gandhi’s ashrams were not directly a place for engaging in politics, but, as Vettickal (2002, pp. 143–184) states, more laboratories for experimenting with village living. Gandhi set up ashrams in South Africa, the Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm, and two major ones in India, Sabarmati and Sevagram, which I have briefly mentioned. They were the “nerve-centres of his political and social actions” (Vettickal, 2002, p. 143). Both Gandhi and Vinoba retreated to their ashrams (Vinoba set up others) at various points of their lives, often later emerging to launch new campaigns. Vinoba spent many years at Sabarmati with Gandhi, and it was from Sabarmati that Gandhi launched the Dandi Satyagraha (salt march).

Those living in the ashram took a series of vows, as mentioned in the previous chapter, in line with the commitment to nonviolence, and stuck to a strict routine (Gandhi, 2010d [1932]). These were to help foster the principles, also outlined in the previous chapter, that Gandhi was seeking to actualise and experiment with (Vettickal, 2002, p. 151). The vows were primarily concerned with self-discipline and then building upon that discipline, external action for the welfare of all (Gandhi, 2010d [1932], p. 65).

Within the movement, the ashrams became the centre of service and training for people in villages, and played a role in setting up organisations of constructive work (Vettickal, 2002, p. 168). Hundreds of ashrams were set up following the model of Sevagram and Sabarmati, and while these two do not function as ashrams anymore, others still provide outreach programmes (Vettickal, 2002, pp. 168–172). Gandhi wanted those trained in the ashrams to head out into the villages, and in this way, the ashrams were planned as a stepping-stone to gram swaraj. Vinoba Bhave’s life demonstrates this plan in action, from years spent in Sabarmati, then leaving after Gandhi’s assassination to launch and lead the bhoodan and gramdan movements.


Gandhi suggested that even in the nonviolent society he envisaged, there may need to be people tasked with nonviolently dealing with disputes, rather than the state police and military (Gandhi, 2015b [1946], pp. 207–212). They would be a shanti sena (peace brigade/army). The shanti sena would have people in it who were committed to nonviolence, who are servants of the community rather than masters (Gandhi, in Dhawan, 1946, p. 289). They would carry no weapons, be easily recognisable, and carry medical supplies (PR, p. 40–41). Therefore, they would also act as an ambulance service does. Of course, they would not be enforcers of a state, but conflict resolvers. The shanti sena’s existence would be based upon the consent of all in a village (Bhave, 2015 [1962], p. 82). Gandhi’s vision was that people in each village could be trained in nonviolent defence, and that villages would be willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, as well as individuals for their village. Nonviolent defence was an extension of his already developed method of satyagraha.

Gandhi did not build the shanti sena in his lifetime; however, Vinoba added it to the constructive programme and formed it, with JP later taking a leading role in its development. Shanti sena was formed ten years after Gandhi’s assassination and lasted for thirty-five years (Weber, 1996, p xix). It was involved in a variety of activities. As Weber (1996, p. 104) writes, “…actions were, in the main, concerned with restoring peace in communal disturbances, working with refugees… doing peace work in India’s sensitive border areas, and establishing training camps to instill the ethos of service and nonviolence in the youth of India.”

Weber (1996) provides the only comprehensive analysis of shanti sena. He writes that the shanti sena experiments experienced varying levels of success, concluding that the most successful campaigns were campaigns of the charismatic leaders such as Vinoba, when, for example, he encouraged a large group of bandits to surrender their weapons. Weber (1996) also shows that the Sena was not immune from the increasing ideological splits in the sarvodaya movement, between Vinoba and JB, towards the end of their lives. These divisions contributed to its demise.

The shanti sena, later led by Narayan Desai, a famous Gandhian who trained people in the shanti sena’s methods, was subsequently involved in the founding of Peace Brigades International, which engages in unarmed civilian peacekeeping (Meyer, 2015; Shepard, 1987, pp. 41–62). During its active years, shanti sena was involved in riot control, and methods of nonviolent defence and peacekeeping.

The Uplift of People

As is made clear by multiple points of the constructive programme, and by the meaning of sarvodaya – welfare of all – the uplift of people is seen by Gandhians as a vital part of developing the nonviolent society. Uplift within the village was a central commitment for the villages. This includes the uplift of women, indigenous people, peasants and the removal of untouchability. As Narayanasamy (2003, p. 10) writes, “The first step in the path to Sarvodaya, is the welfare of the lowest – ‘Antyodaya’”. Narayanasamy (2003, p. 11) continues, saying that it is clear in the movement that there should be “no distinction between caste or creed.” This is one of the reasons that the village is an imagined village. Gandhi (1999d [1946], p. 372) writes, “There are many faults in the ancient village system. Unless they are eradicated, there will not only be no hope for the untouchables in a free India but for India in the comity of nations.”

From this, it would appear that this point requires little discussion, as the sarvodaya movement was clear that it must remove hierarchy. Gandhi invited untouchables into his ashrams, and people in the ashram had to take vows to end untouchability (Dalton, 1993, p. 54; Iyer, 1973, p. 75). He was clear that women held equal status to men and was clear that women could decline marriage. However, there is an element of controversy over the topic of uplift, as Gandhi’s views on untouchability and his treatment of women have been questioned and challenged by some. I address the issues here, as they are the key arguments that could be used to undermine Gandhi, and by extension, his movement, from an anarchist perspective. It is because of this that I dedicate the rest of this chapter to discussing these issues. I must also acknowledge these challenges and provide a brief background in order to give some context to the following discussions.

This is extremely important to discuss because any accusations that Gandhi, or the sarvodaya movement as a whole, were not contributing to the uplift of people or were in fact doing the opposite, undermines their philosophy and practice. These criticisms have been levelled against Gandhi multiple times in the last few years (Adams, 2010; Roy, 2014). Therefore, an analysis of the sarvodaya movement’s uplift of people cannot be as simple as stating that the sarvodaya movement worked for the uplift of all. For this reason, I do not think these issues can be confined to footnotes, so I will deal with them here, even though they do not speak directly to the question of the practical steps laid down by the sarvodaya movement to create his nonviolent society.

The root of the first, untouchability, originated out of his disagreements with B. R. Ambedkar, a Dalit leader and India’s first minister of law who was instrumental in writing India’s constitution. These disagreements were two-fold: the first being about the difference between removing caste and removing untouchability, and the second about how to engage with the British. At first, Gandhi was not against castes as such, but the idea that some people were less important than others and were untouchable. He wanted to remove the hierarchy of castes. He aimed to “…reform it effectively from within, without alienating the orthodox” (Dalton, 1993, pp. 49–50; Lelyveld, 2011, p. 185). Ambedkar rejected caste outright, and as a result, he eventually rejected Hinduism, becoming a Buddhist instead.[76] It should be noted that, likely partly due to his debate with Ambedkar, Gandhi eventually developed a much stronger critique of the caste system, and rejected it in his writings from 1930 onwards (Dalton, 1993, p. 49, 52–53; Lelyveld, 2011, pp. 185–187). As Dalton (1993, p. 53) states, from that point “his attitude towards the institution of untouchability remained consistent: he was always unequivocally against it.” Both Ambedkar and Gandhi moved closer together in their positions over time (Hardiman, 2003, pp. 134–135).

A key disagreement with Ambedkar centred around questions of how to deal with the British offering Dalits a seat at the table of power and official representation through separate electorates. Ambedkar saw this as important for the Dalit cause. He was concerned what it would mean for Dalits if the British were to leave and be replaced by high-caste Brahmins (Roy, 2014, p. 45). On the other hand, Gandhi likely saw this as a British method of divide and conquer, and went on hunger strike to oppose it (Lelyveld, 2011, p. 228–229). Gandhi also saw the strike as an attempt to highlight the issue of untouchability within Hinduism (Dalton, 1993, p. 57). In Gandhi’s eyes, the strike against separate voting rights for untouchables was a strike against untouchability itself. He wanted to shock caste Hindus into recognition of the violence of untouchability (Lelyveld, 2011, p. 229). In Gandhi’s view, if he did not unite all Hindus then there would be violence between untouchables and caste Hindus, and his strike was therefore a way of preventing this (Lelyveld, 2011, p. 229). However, as time progressed and Gandhi and Ambedkar got closer together in their views, Gandhi even gave support, with reluctance, to reserved Dalit seats in 1932 (Hardiman, 2003, p. 134).

Gandhi used the word Harijan (“children of God”) before the word “Dalit” was used to describe “untouchables”. This word has been rejected by Dalits in favour of the word “Dalit”, but Gandhi used harijan to show that all members of humanity should sit together as equals, and this was the basis of his rejection of the British proposal. However, it is clear to see how Dalits may take issue with Gandhi’s approach and position; Ambedkar wanted to ensure political power for Dalits and Gandhi was seen as preventing this. Gandhi was ultimately aiming to decentralise all political power.

On the next point, Gandhi’s treatment of women has come into question by some in recent years, which is important to acknowledge. This is both in his relationship with his wife, and his views and practices in regard to his vow of celibacy. A range of work in recent years has discussed aspects of the subject (Adams, 2010; Lelyveld, 2011; Weber, 2011; Suhrud, 2011a). Gandhi took a vow of Brahmacharya (“celibacy”) late into his time in South Africa. Suhrud (2011a) explains the purpose of this vow in a review of Thomas Weber’s book on Gandhi’s relationship with Western women:

One rarely recognised aspect of Gandhi is in fact his highest aspiration and the real point of his much-discussed Brahmacharya. Through Brahmacharya, by stripping himself of every vestige of manly lust, he hoped that women would regard him as one of themselves. His aim, in short, was to become a woman, in deed and mind, if not body. Whether he attained this or not is a different matter but it was a lifelong quest.

The same view is expressed by Lelyveld (2011, p. 304) who writes that, “sexlessness was the ideal for which he was striving.” This is something he struggled with his whole life, as is clear in his writings (Gandhi, 1993 [1925–1929]).

Suhrud (2011a) believes that “the larger question of the role of women—Indian and Western—in his life and thought… awaits an answer, and its own book.” This is clear to see around the publication of recent texts that either deal with aspects of this, come to differing conclusions, or give different emphasis’ on parts of Gandhi’s life and thought (Adams, 2010; Lelyveld, 2011; Weber, 2011). The topic is, in some circles, taboo, with one recent text that deals with the subject of Gandhi’s sexuality being banned in India. Lelyveld’s biography, banned before it was even published in India, was banned due to a suggestion that it implied that Gandhi was bi-sexual (Suhrud, 2011b; Roberts, 2011).

The most substantive criticisms of Gandhi are of his decision to sleep next to three young women in his later life, on separate occasions. One in particular, his great-niece, Manuban Gandhi, who was by his side from the age of 17 until his assassination two year later, is the main focus of these concerns. He did this in order to see whether or not he had conquered his desires in regard to his vow of celibacy. This happened late in his life, after the death of his wife, as independence was about to finally become a reality. His view, as he sought to achieve spiritual progress towards moksha, was that a Brahmachari (somebody who practices Brahmacharya) should be able to lie next to a woman without being aroused, and that, in the words of, Lelyveld (2011, p. 304), “such a man would be completely free from anger and malice”. In his own words, Gandhi (1999e [1929], p. 327) thought that Brahmacharya was necessary because:

Life without Brahmacharya appears to me to be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature knows no self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and only in so far as he exercises, self-restraint. What formerly appeared to me to be extravagant praise of Brahmacharya in our religious books seems now, with increasing clearness every day, to be absolutely proper and founded on experience.

This personal experiment, as Gandhi saw it, took place at a time when he saw his life’s work as a failure, as the independence that was won was not the independence he was seeking. He increasingly despaired at the state of India, and was dedicating his time to quelling communal violence that was erupting throughout the country between Muslims and Hindus, and pursuing his own spiritual progress (Lelyveld, 2011). As the quote above alludes to, he saw the vow as rooted in India’s own religious traditions. He also struggled with it, acknowledging that he did not yet fully have control over his mind. These quotes from Gandhi (1999f [1938], p. 319; 1999g [1939], p. 61) further elucidate his views on celibacy and women, and clarify Lelyveld and Suhrud’s statements above:

My Brahmacharya was not derived from books. I evolved my own rules for my guidance and that of those who, at my invitation, had joined me in the experiment. If I have not followed the prescribed restrictions, much less have I accepted the description found even in religious literature of woman as the source of all evil and temptations. Owing as I do all the good there may be in me to my mother, I have looked upon woman, never as an object for satisfaction of sexual desire, but always with the veneration due to my own mother. Man is the tempter and aggressor. It is not woman whose touch defiles man, but he is often himself too impure to touch her … I am experimenting. I have never claimed to have been a perfect brahmachari of my definition. I have not acquired that control over my thoughts that I need for my researches in non–violence is to be contagious and infectious, I must acquire greater control over my thoughts.


From that day when I began Brahmacharya, our freedom began. My wife became a free woman, free from my authority as her lord and master, and I became free from the slavery to my own appetite, which she had to satisfy. No other woman had any attraction for me in the same sense that my wife had. I was too loyal to her as husband and too loyal to the vow I had taken before my mother to be slave to any other woman. But the manner in which my Brahmacharya came to me irresistibly drew me to woman as the mother of man. She became too sacred for sexual love. And so, every woman at once became sister or daughter to me.

As the quotes show, he was not following instruction from a particular religious tradition as such, but following his own rules. He clearly views his actions as an act of nonviolence, removing men’s control of women. The concern and criticism here is that in his later life he seems to be using women as a tool of his own experiments, without regard for them (Hardiman, 2003, p. 105). He does not appear to recognise the power relationship between himself and these women. While details are lost to history and time, this incident is important, because here we see a line crossed between sexual behaviour that many may view as strange (not everyone agreed with the value of celibacy or Gandhi’s interpretation of the Brahmacharya vow, including Nehru), to behaviours that may cause harm. As his Bengali interpreter, Nirmal Bose, noted (cited in Lelyveld, 2011, p. 307), Gandhi, in his actions, could “leave a mark of injury on personalities of others who are not of the same moral stature… and for whom sharing in Gandhiji’s experiment is no spiritual necessity.” The key point of relevance for this research is the question of whether we can say Gandhi worked for the uplift of all, while engaging in these activities.

It is hard to tell what the psychological effect of Gandhi’s experiment was on Manuban. Her diary is not currently fully available in English. We know that Gandhi’s behaviour caused a stir within his community, leading to jealousy amongst many (Lelyveld, 2011, pp. 302–307). We also know that some figures close to Gandhi felt embarrassed about the situation and/or feared negative political consequences. Some pressured Manuban to not speak about it, although Gandhi talked and wrote about it openly and did not hide it from anyone (Lal, 2000, p. 106; Lelyveld, 2011, pp. 302–307). The arrangement appears to be consensual, as much as can be seen, while acknowledging the power balance between them. Lal writes:

There was never any suggestion that Gandhi made improper advances towards Manu or the other two women who on occasion had slept with him, or that the encounter was in the remotest matter sexual, or even that he had entertained ‘impure’ thoughts towards Manu and the other women.

Gandhi also took his vow of celibacy without consulting his wife (Hardiman, 2003, pp. 102–103), which has also been a point of criticism.

Outside of Gandhi’s personal life, Gandhi is accused by some of not challenging patriarchy in his political action (Kishwar, 1986; Hardiman, 2003, pp. 116–122). This accusation appears partly due to Gandhi’s approach of working where people were at, proposing action that was not so far away from their reality (Finkelstein, 2010). The whole village plan, and the ashrams — a concept that people in India were already familiar with — were also part of this (Vettickal, 2002, p. 173). Gandhi took the familiar, and radicalised it. On one side, Gandhi encouraged women to come out into the streets, and on the other, Gandhi presented ways of women resisting from their homes, in their traditional role in the home and family (Patel, 1988; Thakkar, 2005, p. 157; Legg, 2003). Many women contributed to the struggle in this way, in a way that was empowering for them (Thakkar, 2005, p. 157). This approach turned the home into an empowering place, rather than one where women were subjugated (Legg, 2003; Thakkar, 2005, pp. 156–157). Gandhi was also encouraging of women who refused to marry, or who took celibacy vows themselves, which was significant in a culture that ostracised women who did this (Hardiman, 2003, pp. 109–111).

There had been people who took more radical feminist positions in India, but these voices were not prominent (Anagol, 2005; Hardiman, 2003). And it is also very true that Gandhi became considerably more progressive throughout his life in regards to these issues (Harmann, 2003), as he had done with issues of caste. He still held views that would now be rejected by progressives and radicals, but were consistent with many at the time; for example, he was opposed to contraceptives. While in South Africa, he certainly victim-blamed some women who were harassed (Hardiman, 2003, pp. 103–104). This is an issue where we see a great shift in his thinking. In the last decade of his life, he expressed the view that “there was absolutely no justification for holding a women to blame for being raped and subjugating her to social ostracism as a result”, and that people should use violence to prevent rape if needed (Hardiman, 2003, pp. 108–109). Gandhi (cited in Hardiman, 2003, p. 109) says in 1942, demonstrating the shift in thinking since South Africa, that:

When a woman is assaulted she may not stop to think in terms of himsa or ahimsa. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her honour. God has given her nails and teeth. She must use them with all her strength and, if need be, die in the effort.

During partition, he also strongly rejected the idea that women who had been abducted and assaulted were impure as he appealed to families who had excluded abducted women to take them back, and if they did not, he offered them shelter in his movement (Hardiman, 2003, p. 109). He met with and expressed support for the suffragettes multiple times in his life, including before he travelled back to India (Gandhi, 2015a). It should be needless to say that Gandhi did not remove patriarchy; patriarchy is still strong in India as elsewhere (Desai and Thakkar, 2001; Hardiman, 2003). However, this can hardly be attributed to Gandhi, even if there were things he could have arguably done better in order to challenge patriarchy.

As I have said, these actions, along with his positions taken on caste, as outlined above, have been used to reject Gandhi and the Gandhian movement, which, in regard to his pursuit of Brahmacharya, was the fear of some of his followers (Lelyveld, 2011, pp. 302–308). Of course, not all negative critiques of Gandhi are free from wider bias. Some who oppose Gandhi — on this topic and others — clearly reject Gandhi’s politics and aims. For example, a relatively recently review in the Wall Street Journal by Roberts (2011), is an unashamedly pro-colonial example that attacks Gandhi and dismisses any negativities of British colonial rule or any positive outcomes of Gandhi and the Gandhian movements’ actions.

Some discussions of Gandhi and sexism are further distorted and confused by the timeframe (as is much discussion of Gandhi), by, for example, selecting quotes from his time in South Africa, and putting them alongside the Gandhi of the 1930s and 1940s.[77] Gandhi changed a lot in this time, as he himself acknowledges, and he cannot be read as if he only held one set of views and thoughts. One of the interview participants in this research, Stephanie Van Hook (personal communication, April 1, 2016), pointed out that it is important to check the dates when reading Gandhi’s work:

What we know about Gandhi is that, at the beginning of all of the books, check the dates. We have to look at Gandhi later and see how he has evolved on certain positions. But then we also learn from Gandhi, in a way, how to be human. What you said when you were 15 years old, or what you were doing when you were 8, or what you were doing later… we are supposed to unfold and we are supposed to keep growing and we are supposed to change. So, what I think is very lovely about his humanity and what I find very very fascinating is that he, if you really look at him, shows you that that is ok. He is doing that. He is that secure in his person that people could do that and change.

By pointing this out, I do not suggest that the negative claims of anyone should be ignored. While Gandhi was in many ways progressive for his time, he was not a God or saint. Another interview participant in this research, Dr. Usha Thakkar (personal communication, February 1, 2017), added to this, stating that Gandhi needs to be viewed in the context of his time:

In his times, the condition of the untouchables was really bad. And they could not even touch the persons of so-called “high caste”; they could not eat with them. In many place, the so-called untouchables had to keep away from the so-called high caste people so that the shadow also would not fall on them. I think in that situation, Gandhi did a lot of work because he wanted to draw so-called untouchables into the mainstream and he did not want them to be separate.

Pro-Gandhi writing, until recent years, has not engaged with the issue of Gandhi’s behaviour in depth, but it is clear from reading Gandhi that he saw the Brahmacharya vow as vital to his spiritual progress. It appears that his actions in regards to his Brahmacharya vow were not of great concern to the wider public at the time, even his critics, who thought “his personal life was unimpeachable” (Lal, 2000, p. 108). It is also clear, at least from what can be ascertained from the writing on Gandhi, that the concern here about Gandhi’s experiments with his vow of celibacy is limited to Gandhi’s own actions, and not his whole movement. While celibacy was required to be a member of Gandhi’s ashrams, it was not required of everyone, and Gandhi was not prescribing his experiment for others. From this point of view, it is my perspective that the criticisms cannot be generalised to the whole sarvodaya movement.

Regardless of some aspects of Gandhi’s personal life, he and the sarvodaya movement were very clear that women are equals in society and that nobody is worth less than others. As Vinoba (Bhave, 2010, p. 15) writes, “…women’s social, family and political rights and responsibilities are exactly the same as men’s. Both have equal economic rights, and both have equal moral capacities… the difference between man and women is external, not basic.” The legacy of the sarvodaya movement, under Gandhi’s leadership and beyond, is one that brought women into the streets in the independence movement, and rejected their lower status nationally and within the village (Ryland, 1977, pp. 132–140).

I am going to conclude this chapter by bringing in some more quotes from one interviewee, Dr. Usha Thakkar, on the Gandhian movement and the uplift of women and Dalits, which is so central to Gandhian theory. I do this because the comments offer views on an important topic in regards to Gandhi that has not been explored thoroughly. Her comments add valuable information on women in the Gandhian movement, which is rarely engaged with in discussions about Gandhi and women in recent discussions, because most of these discussions end at Gandhi’s death. Usha noted that the largest surviving Gandhian movements that exist now are women’s movements, such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), lead by Ela Bhatt. Another major movement was the Chipko movement — a major forest conservation movement mainly comprised of women. Stri Shakti (female power) was a key emphasis of the sarvodaya movement under Vinoba’s leadership too. Lots of women were centrally involved in all Gandhian movements, as Gandhian workers and in the bhoodan movement, in the ashrams and working for women’s uplift (Harris, 1987, p. 1050).

In Usha’s view, Gandhi is totally aware of the position of women and Dalits, even if he had a different vision of change to what others may have wanted. I am quoting Usha at length, because she offers an overview of the subject, linking it to her women’s studies background, while also offering a loop back to the other discussions of Gandhi in this thesis: his vision, his achievements, and his ability to engage with others.[78] She says that:

Gandhi’s aware of the pitiable condition of what we call, “untouchables”, the Dalits. Now, Gandhi gave a name to them, harijan. That means people of God. Now, at present, of course, politically, it’s not correct to say, because it is taken as related to caste and in a democratic country all are equal. We call them Dalit. But in Gandhi’s days, even that was something significant because he says that we look at them as if they’re inferior to us. We have to see them as our own brothers… Gandhi was very much concerned about the inferior social status of women. There is no dividing line in society. For Gandhi there cannot be a dividing line between private/personal and public spheres of life. He also believed that we need to change the unequal power relations. This is somewhat similar to what Women’s Studies maintain: Personal is political. Now, what has happened is that many who write in women’s studies are often inspired by left ideology so they have their prejudices against Gandhi. Gandhi never said, I’m a feminist. Gandhi says men and women are equal but different. He had firm belief in nonviolence of women. He has his reflection that women are more suited for home and there, of course is my difference with Gandhi. Today, women cannot be allocated only to home. They have to in public sphere also. But, there is an openness of Gandhi and that is remarkable. There is space for quarrel with him. You could go and say, “hey, I don’t agree with this” and he will listen to you and present his arguments. (U. Thakkar, personal communication, February 1, 2017).

While others in Indian society, even before Gandhi, may have held a more radical feminist analysis (Anagol, 2005), no other person or group at the time inspired or created more radical action in regards to women’s uplift. She said:

Gandhi changed the lives of the Indian women. Indian women were pushed in purdah for centuries. They could not come out in the open. It’s amazing.. every time I see documentaries depicting Gandhi’s leadership in freedom struggle, especially in the 1930s, I see those women on streets, picketing the foreign cloth, picking up the salt. In 1930, women played a very major role in supporting Gandhian movement and supporting national freedom. Now, only Gandhi could make it happen. There were many social reformers before that. Even Karve, who inspired my university; when he saw Gandhi’s leadership and the changes he brought, he said, Gandhi has achieved in this short time what would have taken a lifetime for me. In a way, I believe he feminised politics. Gandhi said, you can be a woman and you are powerful. He gave a new definition of power stressing the moral elements and not physical force. (U. Thakkar, personal communication, February 1, 2017).

Usha then offered some reflections from other women on Gandhi, and I will share three of them here. Two touch on movements about which there is some background in this chapter, and here Usha’s voice adds some detail and valuable “on the ground” observation of the movements. The first comes from her experience working with women in the panchayats:

To connect it to contemporary times, I was quite involved with the camps for the rural women in panchayats. When I was there, my friend and I, we would go and we would talk about the question of ‘what is empowerment?’…They would [talk about] democratic decentralisation and how it functions. I asked ‘so who do you think is a great leader?’ And they said, Gandhi, and I said ‘why do you say that?’ They replied that Gandhi taught us this. This is amazing… So even the women from [rural] panchayats can connect with him (U. Thakkar, personal communication, February 1, 2017).

The second example is of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and its Gandhian founder, Ela Bhatt:

I can give you another striking example: Ela Bhatt. She founded the Self-employed Women’s Association. SEWA is the first organisation of women in the unorganised sector… Most women are in the unorganised sector. That means they sell vegetables or they do sanitary and other odd/ad hoc jobs. They have no job security and live in dire poverty. Ela Bhatt is a great Gandhian and in the early 70s, she started organising these women. She started a women’s association within a Gandhian trade union. But, she said, no, there is no space for women here, women need a separate association. So, she started SEWA and organised women and today there are close to one million members. These women, they have organised everything. There are women organising the textiles [production], women who are organising the vegetable business, women who are doing embroidery and women who are running the bank… So, I think Gandhi inspired that collective leadership, collective decision.

The third and final example is of the Chipko, anti-deforestation, movement. The movement started in 1973 in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. It was directly inspired by the sarvodaya movement. Usha (personal communication, February 1, 2017) said:

There are beautiful forests and fertile lands in this remote part of north India, and of course, the land was being sold contractors who would cut the trees and sell the land. People came to cut the trees, and what did the women do, and of course, some men supported them. Each women hugged one tree. The trees could not be cut down. This is a very Gandhian method, and they succeeded.


In this chapter, I have provided an overview of the sarvodaya movement’s vision of a nonviolent stateless society. I have aimed to highlight sarvodaya’s overall plan or blueprint to create a nonviolent village-based society, which has been largely ignored within anarchist, pacifist, and resistance scholarship. The Sarvodaya movement has conducted working experiments on nonviolent living, not the complete nonviolent society, as outlined above. However, they have pushed the boundaries further than most social movements in terms of their actions to create a nonviolent stateless society. In this chapter, I have also outlined and discussed some criticisms in regard to Gandhi and the uplift of women and Dalits, a central component of sarvodaya.

As with any movement, the action of sarvodaya leaders were not always perfect and the movement and its leaders should be viewed within the time and space in which they lived. Overall, Gandhi’s achievements in regards to creating nonviolent communities are significant. He sought to create a society where all experience swaraj, where nobody is higher than another, where people, animals, and the environment are not exploited. While there are certainly things that can be criticised about Gandhi – as there are with many political figures throughout history — these criticisms are not fatal to his overall achievement, theory and aims.

While the sarvodaya vision has not been fully enacted and the direction of India is not presently moving along these lines, the scale and impact of the sarvodaya movement is significant, touching millions. It is clear that some of the Gandhian institutions are gone – the Mahatma’s key ashrams are now museums – and the prominence of the movement is greatly reduced. However, many institutions and constructive programme organisations are still operating. What I cannot provide in this research is an analysis of these institutions, which I have not had access to. In the next chapter, I will probe deeper into successes, failures and the learning of the movement, following on from Gandhi’s lineage. I will do this by bringing in some voices of those walking in the steps of Gandhi today.

Chapter Seven: Reflections from Interviews 1 — Engagement with Others as the Basis of Political Action

The very process of beginning to speak is a step towards peace.

— Dilip Simeon (personal communication, December 30, 2016)

See, that was something remarkable in Gandhi. He would disagree, without becoming disagreeable. They were not enemies. Ok, you don’t agree with me, fine. But that doesn’t make you a villain. That doesn’t make you my enemy.

— Yogesh Kamdar (personal communication, February 1, 2017)

Over the last two chapters, I have given a short introduction to Gandhi and his followers and their actions, philosophy and plan for a stateless society of non-hierarchical village republics. This was not just a theory of how to live in a nonviolent and anarchistic way, but was partially enacted through Gandhi’s ashrams and institutions and Vinoba’s bhoodan and gramdan movements. The aim of the following chapters is not to dwell on why the Gandhian vision for society has not been comprehensively explored, or to argue that it is a realistic politics of peace as others have. Instead, I wish to explore it, and explore the views of its modern adherents rather than its historical context, speaking to those who are trying to live out the Gandhian vision, rather than exploring Gandhi’s life and writings. I will draw on the learning of people who are following in the footsteps of Gandhi in the modern era, highlighting their work and drawing on their learning and reflections. The reflections that they offer have three elements: first, they offer some reflections on the sarvodaya experiments/movements highlighted in the past two chapters; second, they discuss some of their present work in India today; and third, they offer leanings/recommendations for activists who want to follow a similar path, looking to the future. The lessons and recommendations are based on their own personal experience and the experience of what has been successful in their movements. The conversation with participants took place in the context of a discussion about what needs to be carried forward as we move to the future.

The following two chapters do not cover the entire sarvodaya plan. Instead, the subject of the chapters and sub-headings are a reflection of what the participants talked about. These are key themes from the conversations that either all, or almost all, of the conversations touch upon. Of course, given the open nature of the interviews, as discussed in the methods, not every interviewee discussed every topic. Therefore, it should not be assumed that every interviewee would agree with all of the comments made by others. This chapter focuses on how we engage with each other and the next chapter focuses on political organisation. The first is more individualistic, the second more structural.[79] This chapter, more specifically, focuses on the importance of open, and non-judgemental engagement. This is both with those whom are being nonviolently resisted and those within your own community. The Gandhian approach offers an example of how to engage with others in an anti-authoritarian way.

After outlining the approach to engaging with others, I focus on two specific aspects of engagement that speak to the discussion of anarcho-pacifism in the first part of the thesis. They are both examples of the application of Gandhian anti-authoritarian engagement on two issues that are pertinent to anarcho-pacifism. The first is leadership. How leadership functions without violent authority is a key concern of how to create an anarcho-pacifist society, and the Gandhians present a model of how this can be done. The second is engagement with others, specifically Marxists. How groups interact with other groups that they are not in direct conflict with is an important question for any anarchistic vision, which this topic speaks to. Anarchism has a long history of engagement with Marxism, and any anarcho-pacifist movement would have to engage with others who share similar long-term aims, but have different methods. In India, there is a significant history of Maoist movements, and I asked interview participants about their engagement with them to see what they had to offer.

Truthful Engagement with Others: The Gandhian, Marxist and Anarchist approaches

Truthful Engagement in Theory

In many ways, these perspectives on how we engage with others can be seen as an underpinning element of all Gandhian political organisation and action. Truthful engagement is the backbone of Gandhian political organisation, and notably, is a very different starting point to much Eurocentric Leftist thought and action. It is for this reason that I have chosen to address it first, along with the topic being one of the most prominent points of discussion in the interviews.

Dilip Simeon explains the theoretical position about how we communicate with others as he focuses on the relationship between language and truth. When I asked Dilip (personal communication, December 30, 2016) what his vision of a peaceful society was, he responded like this:

I just wish that when people talk about revolution and transformation that humanity can learn to speak. The possibility of carrying out meaningful conversation has evaporated. We now hear of terms like post-truth. Of course, if someone were to make an argument or write an essay saying we live in a post-truth world, we would still be operating with the concept of truth because the notion that we live in a post-truth world would have to be considered to be true. We can’t do without truth, if we wish to speak at all. So, for me, the first requirement of a peaceful world is that language be reinstated as the bearer of some meaning and not as a tool of confusion and deceit and propaganda. A peaceful world would mean first and foremost, that we learn peacefully to speak because violence is not politics. Violence is pre-political. Human beings are speaking animals. If they cannot speak, if they are being violent with each other, obviously there is no speech. A peaceful world means that we try very hard to re-establish the purpose of human language and communication.

Dilip’s explanation speaks to an underlying aspect of Gandhian action, which leans towards the Arendtian position that violence is the antithesis of politics (Arendt, 2006 [1963]; Breen, 2007). Politics is based on speech and communication, and speech can only be based on truth. Speech that is not true holds no meaning, or we could say, is a-political. When people engage in violence, they do not engage in speech. Therefore, if you remove the truth (speech), you come back to violence. This cannot form a peaceful world because violent means cannot create peaceful ends.[80] From this perspective, speech (which is intimately connected to the concept of truth) is the foundation that will ultimately allow people to transcend conflict and create something new. If we accept Dilip’s assertion that violence is not politics, then political organisation, from a Gandhian perspective, at its most basic level, is about truthful interactions between people. It is about speech.

In order to understand this, it is also important to remember that the purpose of Gandhian politics (or all action) is about uncovering satya, truth. Gandhi does not claim to know how to create a perfect world, or to how to be perfectly nonviolent. He experiments, humbly, as he strives for sarvodaya. Part of this striving, and these experiments, is speech with others: friends, allies, and “enemies” or adversaries. On a theoretical and practical level, this is radically different from many other schools of thought that seek revolutionary transformation, and at least in theory, it offers an example of how to be revolutionary but without violence and hatred.

There is a big difference between the Marxist approach to engagement with the other, and the Gandhian. It is worth bringing the Marxist approach into this first section of this chapter, because the Gandhian process is further demonstrated by contrasting it against the Marxist. It is also important, as much radical action globally over the last century, has been lead by Marxists. Dilip, who was involved in the first stage of the Naxalite movement, stated that Marxism, unlike Gandhism, holds a claim to irrefutable knowledge, as we had a conversation about the rejection of Gandhi by many leftist revolutionaries. From a Gandhian perspective, this is problematic:

For Gandhi, anybody who has irrefutable knowledge is bound to commit some kind of irreversible action. So if you claim to have absolute knowledge, you may feel yourself justified in undertaking an action that is irreversible, like killing someone. Now, there is no ground on which anyone can claim absolute knowledge, except the Pope, or people who have that kind of absolute assistance. The trouble is that much of Marxism-Leninism and other totalitarian doctrines claim to possess absolute knowledge, so engaging with such doctrines requires a discussion about language and truth as well. That’s where truth is so important in Gandhi. For Gandhi, uncovering the truth is a dialogic process. It depends on dialogue and speech and it’s ironical that those who call themselves dialecticians and dialectical materialists, actually shun dialogue. There’s no dialogue going on; there’s mere assertion. Truth is not an assertion, and for Gandhi, the uncovering of truth requires social efforts. The whole of society has to uncover truth. Not just one person who happens to have stumbled into the truth and then feels impelled to impose it on everyone. The pursuit of truth, the question of dialogue and the fusion of means and ends… all these things distinguish Gandhi from the left-wing revolutionaries. (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

So, speech is not only a synonym for truth, it is also an exercise in uncovering the truth. Any group of Marxists, anarchists, or otherwise, who claim absolute truth have no interest in uncovering truth. This is not an attack on Marxism, but a logical extension of their position: if one holds absolute truth, there is no truth to be uncovered. In contrast, the Gandhian position is an inherently humbling position to take. By not claiming absolute truth, it is fundamentally anti-authoritarian, because it does not claim superiority over the other. In this way, the Gandhian position speaks nicely to the anarcho-pacifist argument presented in the first half of this thesis. Non-authoritarian means are being used in order to create non-authoritarian ends. There is no violent authority, as there is no power-over the other. There are no leaders who know best, or “enlightened” vanguards to lead people. The door is always open to other’s perspectives, insights and input.

This position makes it much harder to justify violent acts against others, as many Marxist groups have, linking it in nicely to the pacifist position. The use of violence is rejected not only through principle, but also through method. The Gandhians want to hear the other, rather than impose their own knowledge on the other. Sarvodaya and swaraj for all must be based on lifting people up and supporting them, rather than exerting authority over them. The transformation of society is not based on a war, be it violent or nonviolent, against oppressors, but a fundamentally new way of acting. Dilip continues, explaining further that the Marxist assertion of absolute truth is given to themselves by themselves, and as a result, they put themselves above others:

Ideologues adopt a stance of being in possession of superior knowledge. What gives them that status? Where do they obtain a God’s eye view of history and the world? This theodicean way of looking at history is very dangerous because what it says is that those who have superior knowledge — that is knowledge of historical law — may excuse themselves in advance from the consequences of any crime they choose to commit because they’re doing it for a good cause. (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

With this certainty, there is no need for communication/speech or regard for the judgement of others in society. If speech and truth are parallel concepts, this means that the Marxist position is the opposite of a search for truth. He continues:

Many terrorists also talk like this. Even Tony Blair said this — as in ‘you know, history will judge us’. Who is History? Is there some person called History with a long beard sitting somewhere? All such persons are saying is that their peers cannot judge them. They are announcing the future will judge them. This is an incredibly arrogant claim, that my peers may not judge me. It’s inexcusable. You can’t fashion a whole politics on the basis that your contemporaries are incapable of judging you, only people in an ever-receding future may do so — how do you know that? (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

European “big A” Anarchism does not hold truth in the same way as Marxism. As will be clear from both the exploration of anarcho-pacifism and of Gandhi’s vision of village republics, it shares with Gandhi the rejection of violent authority. However, Gandhi offers something extra to the anarcho-pacifist theory presented. As the pursuit of truth and therefore speech is his aim, he offers a revolutionary method that is consistent with his revolutionary aims and in the process he bridges a gap between interpersonal and collective action. In Chapter Three, the argument I presented was against killing. The Gandhian method, encompassing every interaction with others, not only potential deadly ones, goes deeper as it offers a complete theory of nonviolent action, in all aspects of life, as one strives for revolution. It theoretically offers a level of validity and consistently which Marxism and “big A” Anarchism do not provide.

While anarchist groups put a lot of effort into ensuring that their internal organisation processes are consistent with their theory, anarchist theories of revolution, even those that lean towards nonviolence, do not often have a consistency between how they interact with other anarchists within their own groups, and those outside whom they oppose. Their anarchistic interactions with others – through consensus decision-making process, etc. — are limited to their internal interactions as anarchists or fellow community members. Resistance to oppressors, in many anarchist theories, rarely follows the same principles.[81]

Whether or not Gandhi is correct is of course not proven and cannot be measured, as no anarchistic group has achieved the world they seek. However, we can say that, in the way described, Gandhi’s theory and action are more harmonised and consistent. If it is accepted that means create ends, this is an important point of exploration because it would mean that the Gandhian method of revolution could have more scope for success in transforming our interactions.[82] This nicely links into the idea of prefigurative politics, where the movement’s ideals are embodied in their current action (Gordon, 2007; Graeber, 2002). After all, as the anarchist Gustav Landauer (2010 [1910], p. 204) stated: “The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently.” What we see in Gandhi is possibly the largest and most sustained attempt by any political movement to act on this statement in all aspects of life, resistance and community building.

Truthful Engagement in Gandhi’s Action

The claim that Gandhi’s approach to action is more consistent than Marxist and Anarchist approaches is not a claim that each Gandhian interaction will always result in immediate success, as I will expand on throughout this chapter. As with any interaction, a range of responses can always come back. Sometimes these are violent. Gandhi was always aware of this and prepared for it. However, it is an argument that overall and in the long term, the only way to create new ways of relating to each other and break down current power-relations, cannot be through violence, hate, degrading comments, or lies. Gandhi’s life demonstrates how truthful interactions can take place, as many participants pointed out. They presented these examples as models for action now, or as stories for inspiration.

The Gandhian commitment to openly communicate with others is constantly applied towards “the enemy”, allies, and those in their own communities. Gandhi demonstrated this towards the British, his followers in his ashrams, and to others, like Ambedkar, who he can sometimes be seen as an ally of as they oppose the British, while at other times Gandhi held a conflictual relationship with. Dr. Usha Thakkar points out ways in which Gandhi enacted his nonviolent resistance without having enemies. She points to a particular interaction that Gandhi had with the Viceroy:

From this building he [Gandhi] wrote a letter to the private secretary of the Governor of Bombay [George Lloyd], on 25 August 1919. He elaborated his idea and arguments on swadeshi and his great faith in the power of spinning. He even offered to present a spinning wheel to Lady George Lloyd and to send her a lady teacher or to give her lessons himself. (U. Thakkar, personal communication, February 1, 2017).

He then offered to teach the Viceroy’s wife how to spin. Here, we can see that while Gandhi is leading a satyagraha campaign against British rule, he speaks to the Viceroy on a human level, even offering service. He does not denounce the person, but he is challenging the injustice of the system that the Viceroy is part of. As mentioned previously, May (2015, p. 49) states, based on Gandhi’s nonviolence, that coercion removes autonomy, but without removing the opponent’s dignity. This is a good example of how Gandhi was nonviolently coercive. Usha explained that a key way we see Gandhi’s practice of having no enemies laid out, is that that he does not make a distinction between his public and private life, between the personal and the political. He is always transparent about what he is doing and why, and he approaches the Viceroy and the police commissioner in a way that is as open as he would be with anyone else. Gandhi’s action offers a middle way between attacking the other and simply talking to them in a passive way. He shows that it is possible to be confrontational, while also truthfully communicating.

Speaking about Gandhi, Sandeep Pandey (personal communication, January 25, 2017) shared similar reflections, and expressed that activists should strive to imitate this kind of action:

Gandhi was very special in the sense that he was able to maintain his relationship with the people against whom he was protesting. That was an amazing ability he had. He said hate the sin, not the sinner. Individually, he had no feeling of animosity towards the British, but at the same time, he made very clear that he was fighting against the Empire, to dismantle it. I think we should try to strive at that kind of situation because ultimately, human beings can change. The system itself is repressive, the system of the government. We have to try to humanize it, but even that will be done only through individuals. So, I think Gandhi’s efforts to change the heart of the people was very important because ultimately that is the only change which will be sustainable.

Here, we are also seeing a distinction between Gandhi’s nonviolence and pragmatic nonviolent theory, such as that promoted by Sharp (1973, 2005, 2011), as well as anarchist and Marxist revolutionary theory. While pragmatic nonviolence theory says little about the way we interact with the other, apart from not killing them, the Gandhian view sees that the way we speak to others, the means, also determines the outcome of action as it opens the door for the “enemies” to change. Gandhi wants to change behaviour, but realises that people must ultimately do this themselves. He does not want to simply win a nonviolent battle with nonviolent “weapons”, or impose his ideals on others, as discussed with the distinction between Marxism and Gandhianism above. The key insight here is that we can only humanise the political by being more open to others, and, again, we must experiment in how to do this. If we use the term politics like Arendt does, we could say that we need to experiment with how to actually do politics, not the violence that is currently more common than politics (Arend, 2006 [1963]; Breen, 2007). We have “political” systems and theories of “political” revolution, but do not know how to do politics — how to speak while also being revolutionary.

Truthful Engagement 101

So far, based on the content of interviews, I have discussed a theory of truthful engagement. In summary, I have laid out that: (1) violence is not politics; (2) politics is based on speech/communication; (3) speech and truth are synonymous; (4) if speech and truth are synonymous, untruthful speech is not politics but is, instead, either violence or meaningless; (5) speech and truth are not only synonymous, but speech is also a way of uncovering truth; (6) Gandhi does not exert absolute truth; (7) to exert absolute truth prevents one from uncovering truth, and allows one to commit irrefutable acts in the name of that truth; (8) a claim of absolute truth also puts one in a perceived position of superiority to others, which tends towards the creation of hierarchy; and finally, (9) Gandhi demonstrated how to engage with others truthfully in his own interaction, while also leading a nonviolent movement and participating in nonviolent resistance.

After establishing these principles, there are a number of questions about how truthful engagement is enacted in the context of a revolutionary movement. In the rest of this chapter, I will discuss this in three ways. Here, I will outline some broad reflections from the interview participants about engagement. After this, I will talk about what the Gandhian theory and method of engagement means when we talk about leadership – a topic that is noteworthy, as leadership is a contentious point within anarchism and an important element of the Gandhian movements. Finally, I will discuss this engagement in practice with Marxists, who are in some ways allies – they also want a revolution — and some ways competitors – they offer a different analysis and vision of revolution.

The Gandhians do not prescribe a formula of how to communicate perfectly. Nor do they state that communicating in this way is an easy or simple task. I will now expand on these points. First of all, while open truthful communication with the other is seen as vital, there is also recognition that communication looks different with different people and groups. There is a need to be reflexive when engaging with different groups of people, as you adapt to the context. Usha (personal communication, February 1, 2017) summarises this, and again offers examples of how Gandhi did this in his life:

I was very fortunate that I met some of the old Gandhians and I would ask why they were attracted to Gandhi. My own professor, Dr. Usha Mehta, she was a Gandhian and she had followed Gandhi at the age of 21. She, with some friends and colleagues, had operated underground congress radio in 1942 and she always wore khadi and followed Gandhian principles and ethics. Gandhi was very close to her and she says, well, we didn’t have to make any effort. You go to him and he will ask you, how are you? So I think due to this human touch Gandhi had friends from all political streams of thought. Gandhi could talk to foreigners as well as to illiterate Indian woman, and we get an insight into this, at least I did, from reading Gandhi’s letters to people and it’s amazing. If he’s writing to Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders he writes about political issues. Okay, we have to do in this meeting, what happened to this? Are we in agreement or not? And in the same breath, if he’s writing to the illiterate women in the ashram, and he says, “Oh, I hope you ate well and I hope you prayed well.” Now, I think this connection, human connection vital.

The ability to engage in this way is ultimately an individual ability, and undoubtedly takes practice for most people. A certain attitude is required in order to be able to engage with all on a human level, especially people whom you are opposing, and who are committing considerable violence, such as the British Raj. Usha (personal communication, February 1, 2017) points to the root of the practice that Gandhi and his followers used and/or aspired to:

There are no easy answers, but we need to look inside and we need to find answers of ourselves. Now your answer maybe different than my answer. But if my answer troubles you or harms you, that means my answer is not the correct answer if your answer benefits me and the society, that means you’ve got the right answer. We need to understand this and keep an open mind.

This practice is really an individual practice of learning how to interact with others, with, as many interview participants said, an open mind and heart. Daniel Mazgaonkar (personal communication, February 2, 2017) commented on this, drawing from a recent experience:

It has to come from the heart. See, a week or so ago there was a group of six or seven Americans who came from University in Milwaukee, so those people came. And one woman, when she spoke, she spoke with so much emotion and she almost had tears in her eyes. I had also when I was listening to her presentation. Everyone was. So that sort of sharing should happen in the community. Actually a very simple principle that Gandhi and Vinoba lay down, was become one family.

As well as the individual commitment, there is also a communal one, as individuals commit to practice together. It is the starting point for the growth of a movement or community, and provides a solid foundation to build upon. An intriguing point from Daniel Mazgaonkar, who, as stated previously, was heavily involved in both Vinoba’s and JP’s movements, is that groups should not start with protests. Instead, they must start with heart to heart communication. He expresses this quite clearly:

No political protests at first. First you come together, sit together, know each other, know each other’s condition. Let there be heart to heart talks in the beginning. Then you can think of other action. Protest actions will come much later. And if really this happens, coming together, understanding, then there will not be any issues at all. I guarantee that. The political people will themselves change. People will join and they will forget their politics and their party (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

This makes intuitive sense, especially given the theoretical underpinnings of the role and nature of communication highlighted above. How can we understand each other, be committed to one another, and deal with conflict, both internally within the group and from outside, without, as Daniel says, “knowing each others’ condition”? Despite this, it does not reflect most of my experiences of activism, and is not visible in the majority of action I can observe. In the case of protest and resistance, the process is often reversed. People come together for activist actions rather than initially forming groups or movements with a commitment to long-term action, such as the bhoodan movement. What Daniel’s comment on family does speak to, however, is the anarchist affinity group: a small group that do not try to lead a movement, but act as a catalyst for change within organisations and communities (Anarchist FAQ, 2017). These groups are preformed, and would know each other before action, helping and supporting each other.

While I cannot comment on the successes of enacting this warm heartedness on a communal level within Gandhian groups, as I did not spend an extended time in Gandhian communities while in India, it was clear to me that the interview participants were practicing what they preached. I can certainly say that the warmth, openness and kindness of the participants was shown in their interactions with me, somebody they did not know, but were willing to talk to, make time for, and share with.

I will finish this discussion by sharing some reflections from Stephanie Van Hook, from the Metta Center for Nonviolence, on her personal commitment and practice, including in her job as a Montessori teacher. Her reflections speak nicely to what Daniel was advocating for and give an example of the personal commitment to this process of truthful engagement with others. She describes the practice like this:

To lovingly disagree with somebody, and to also engage in service as much as possible with other people around you without thinking what you want to get out of it or attaching it to the results. So this is what I feel that I am constantly working on very minute. I feel is my biggest peace work… If I can’t be calm with a child when they continue to perform an action that is dangerous or just annoying, I’m a phony, you know. Or, you know, can I be nonviolent and hate my parents? No, I am afraid not. So, [the question is] how to expand our awareness of what it means to be human, and offer myself to people around me and work on those relationships (S. Van Hook, personal communication, April 1, 2016).

As Gandhi’s life shows, the Gandhian method is that it is certainly not conflict averse. In fact, it welcomes conflict. Stephanie (personal communication, April 1, 2016) shared ideas in line with this later in our conversation, as she stated:

Clearly one of the greatest things about life is conflict. Even though it is very uncomfortable, when it is happening, you can get really good at it so that you have the humility sooner to apologise for what you added to that conflict. And you fall in love more with the people around you because that is the reward for working out conflict well, is to grow in love with people. So I wouldn’t want a world without conflict because there is an opportunity for that realisation is really close when you are in a conflict. The fear that conflict is going to really tear you away from this person and you are going to become more separate when it is actually a catalyst for coming together.

She offered a nice example of her attitude and action in a particular conflict:

The other day I wanted to leave the garden at the ashram 15 minutes early because I wanted to change real quick before going to the meditation room and I wanted to go to the meditation room a little bit early. And when I let my friend know that I would like to leave early it clearly was a point that she didn’t appreciate, but she didn’t say anything. However, I could feel it, so then I ended up staying. Then, after meditation, I went straight over and said that I understand that I wouldn’t have been a good example to others if I would have left early because then what is to stop anyone else from leaving early and then she would be left with the whole garden. It was an opportunity to express my love for this person (S. Van Hook, personal communication, April 1, 2016).

This kind of action and reflexivity speaks to the Gandhian concept of our duty to others, and to the vows prescribed by Gandhi to satyagrahis, which are ultimately commitments to work on ourselves (Sarma, 1980; see Appendix Two). The question is about what can I do for others, rather than what are my rights, and what am I entitled to receive. As people practice this, the individual practice becomes a communal one. It then changes the way we act collectively in community or in resistance. It allows for speech (truth), as Dilip was calling for.

Anti-Authoritarian Leadership

Is an Anarchist Leader an Oxymoron?

Now that I have outlined what is meant by truthful engagement, I will move onto the discussion of two topics that came out of the interviews: (1) leadership; and (2) engagement with Marxists. These topics demonstrate applications of the theory in ways that are underexplored, yet very relevant for anti-authoritarian movements. Here, I will explore the first issue.

The leadership of Gandhi, Vinoba and JP played a significant role in the Gandhian movement. The influence of Gandhi’s words and actions, along with the sway of Vinoba to encourage land-gift and bandits to drop their weapons, is powerful and should not be easily dismissed, as there have clearly been positive outcomes from their leadership. The same can be said of JP’s ability to unite people. After the deaths of these three leaders, there have been no Gandhian movements of comparable size. Rajiv Vora (personal communication, January 20, 2017) expresses this view:

JP was the last shining Indian star. The last such leader who inspired people. And when I say inspired, it means that you leave your self-interest and jump into an enlightened larger cause, right? JP was the last such leader who inspired a whole generation, the whole nation!

For anarchist groups that aim to be leaderless — as leaders tend to gain power and then use violent authority (McLaughlin, 2007) — this may be a point of alarm. The Gandhian leadership, which is aiming for the uplift of all, had to create a model of leadership that would not result in violence and the solidification of hierarchy as a result of leaders being corrupted by their authority and position. In other words, the natural authority that these leaders had, because of their ability, knowledge, skills, etc. – the authority of the shoemaker as Bakunin would put it (Dolgoff, 1972) – cannot become privileging or permanent like the authority of a king.[83]

Truthful engagement, as discussed above, goes against many conceptions of what a leader typically does. A leader often acts as the decision-maker or commander-in-chief, especially when we think about leadership at times of struggle. They are the general on a battlefield. They have more power than others and can tell others what to do. They sit at the top of a hierarchy, and as a result, often live a more privileged life than most. While this does not fit naturally with the truthful communication laid out by Gandhi, Gandhi was nevertheless very much a leader.

A key question to answer “is anarchist leadership an oxymoron?” If the answer is yes, then leadership would certainly be a point that separated Gandhi from European Anarchism. However, as the reference to Bakunin and the authority of the shoemaker above will suggest, the answer is not necessarily. Other anarchist writers, such as Colin Ward (1973), have articulated this point:

You can be in authority, or you can be an authority, or you can have authority. The first derives from your rank in some chain of command, the second derives from special knowledge, and the third from special wisdom. But knowledge and wisdom are not distributed in order of rank, and they are no one person’s monopoly in any undertaking (Ward, 1973, p. 43).

From this perspective you can be an authority, and at a given moment, take a leadership role, but people are not forced by the threat of violence to listen to you or follow you. It is also certain that not everybody would be an authority on everything, meaning that the role one may assume as an authority comes and goes. Taking note of a person who is an authority, seeking their advice and following their plans, is voluntary. If somebody who is an authority — such as Gandhi in leading nonviolent resistance — then takes on the leadership role of a commander, it does not involve the same violent authority as when a king or a general commands. This is one way that it can be argued that Gandhi’s leadership was in line with anarchist principles.

However, to be an anarchist leader there probably needs to be mechanisms in place in order to prevent a return to hierarchical and authoritarian organisation that anarchist movements are trying to move away from. These mechanisms, within the Gandhian movement, operate both structurally (the group as a whole can abandon the leader) and through one’s own practice (the commitments and practice of the leader themselves). This prevents a re-occurrence of violence. I will now outline both, starting with the actions of the leader, as they were explained by interview participants.

Daniel Mazgaonkar (personal communication, February 2, 2017) responded to the question of leadership by laying out a set of basic principles needed for leadership:

I think leadership is very important. It is an integral part. I mean, in a way, looking at them [Gandhi and Vinoba] I say, there were actually no leaders. The only difference between today’s politicians and Gandhi or Vinoba was what is in their heart would be on their tongue. Today, politicians speak something and have something different in their head or heart. That kind of politics will never work, and it should not work… But suppose somebody wants to take power, that power should not enter his or her head… In fact, live like the poor! You have to establish unity of heart and mind and soul with those. They are at a disadvantage in society and good leaders use that authority to bring the top people into line so that they also join the change and justice movement. That’s what Gandhi did. He worked against capitalism but wanted all capitalists to sit with the labourers. Here, these political parties don’t want that. They think, “you stay there, you only give us money for elections.”

There are two key points we can pull out from Daniel’s comment. First, leaders should not sit at the top of a hierarchy and should not be seeking power. That is, they should not take seats of power, a position that fits with the anarchist position on the seizure of a state after revolution, but not the Marxist (Newman, 2004). Connected to this, they should live with the most disadvantaged, as the most disadvantaged live. While choosing to live in poverty, as Gandhi did, is not the same as being forced into poverty, this is still a humbling act that fights against the potential corruption of a leader, which occurs from taking a seat of power. On top of this, if you reject ownership of material things and live with basic necessities that you also share with others, you are less likely to use your power for personal gain anyway. Not only did these leaders live like the people they were working with, they were also concerned and engaged with everyday practical issues of the people, such as cooking the food, cleaning the toilets and spinning to make clothes. Gandhi and Vinoba are among a very small number of revolutionary leaders whose writing and action shows a deep concern with issues like sanitation, composting and food production that were essential to village life. Tridip Suhrud (personal communication, January 24, 2017) used this example from Gandhi to demonstrate his concern with practical issues:

For example a very crucial question in the movement was what happens to women during menstruation as prisoners? We’re talking about early 20th Century, pre-sanitary napkin period where menstruation was a social taboo. It involved temporarily untouchability in India. Gandhi has to grapple with that question and help women design and produce sanitary towels. Now, if you say but that’s not what a leader’s supposed to do, Gandhi would say, no, no, no. I don’t think you could actually lead a transformative movement unless you pay attention to all the needs of the political person and, and the bodily needs are as spiritual needs or social needs or the cultural discourse that you need to engage in. So Gandhi is therefore, I think, unlike any other thinker or leader in South Asia. For him, the individual, the institution and the struggle, they all have to be aligned. Any disruption in that process will actually either violate the struggle or more dangerously, violate the human being.

From this we can see that their anarchism is an action, not a label, a philosophy that they subscribe to, or a type of analysis. Anarchism, here, is something that you do, a position taken by Graeber (2000). From Daniel’s comment above is that leaders should communicate truthfully, as has been outlined, and this includes a commitment to being selfless and honest; through doing this they are living their anarchism. However, in Tridip’s comments, we also see how Gandhi attempts to institutionalise these things. He wants the communities and institutions he has created to be able to operate without him. His role as a leader is to help them grow, and impart knowledge, but not to reap the rewards of successes himself. Tridip describes this nicely as he emphasises that Gandhi’s leadership role was as a teacher as well as a commander. He says that being a teacher is necessary for a movement and this involves a different level of responsibility to being in a leadership role that is based purely on command:

You need teachers. The one who assumes the role of the teacher is much greater because every folly that people commit is your folly. This is very different from a leader. A leader can say people did this, but I wasn’t there. So you can say, for example, when 21 police persons are burned to death during one of the movements that Gandhi initiates, Gandhi is hundreds of miles away from that incident. He does not say, that people did this. He says, I made an error. And the atonement has to come from me. So, I think the difference between a leader and a teacher is that the teacher atones. And atones for the sins of others (T. Suhrud, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

His role as a teacher/leader is tied to his role as a commander/leader. This means that he takes responsibility for the people in his movement in the way a parent might if their child does something wrong. However, he still often acted like a commander during nonviolent resistance. Tridip says that this role of the teacher means he has to act differently in different circumstances, switching between the commander and teacher roles, or performing both at once:

Gandhi had to consciously challenge this idea that he was the supreme leader. At the same time, sometimes assuming that responsibility of the supreme leader. Sometimes he would say I will dictate. I know best. He does both and some people would find that problematic, but I think all teachers sometimes have to assume the special role that comes with it. So, for example, the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama whether you like it or not. There is a certain position that he holds within that tradition which he must also recognise. Denying that is also denying that responsibility. I think you people find that rather difficult to juggle or even to understand. So Gandhi, some point says I have to be the leader and therefore take both responsibility and leadership, and at other places he’s just quite willing to be a teacher (T. Suhrud, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

Seeing the role of a Gandhian leader as a multifaceted role – as both a leader and a teacher – helps mitigate potential inconsistencies with the idea of having a leader in a non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian movement. Again, this links back to how people engage with and relate to each other. The leadership role here is to support people to achieve swaraj, to be empowered, and Gandhi is really trying to teach people how to do this, rather than lead them to it. He tried to engage in a way that helped followers empower themselves. Multiple interview participants described this in terms of leadership allowing them to shed their fear, as we can see from Daniel’s story of when he joined Vinoba’s movement. It was Vinoba’s leadership that gave Daniel the inspiration to join the movement. He joined with full conviction, even though he did not know where he would get basic necessities such as money and food. He says:

We had full faith in Vinoba. In the same way, we had full faith in JP when he started his movement. Many young people came. They came looking at JP, no bother, nothing, just jumped. In the same way, we jumped because we knew that Vinoba’s wings were so large that we would all get shelter under it. Actually, the practical side of it was that Vinoba’s influence had reached every home. Wherever we went, we were welcome. We were supported. There were some houses who would lock us out. But, in 99% of cases people have had respect for Vinoba, JP, Gandhi, because of their unity of heart and thought. Their words. So that is why I think we all jumped, or swam. I don’t know how safely we swam, but we swam (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

The sarvodaya leaders gave people confidence to act for themselves, and when things went astray, for example, when the policemen were burned in Chauri Chaura in 1922, during Gandhi’s movement, they step in and as Tridip says, they dictate in order to try and prevent damage, rather than seek their own power. Michael Nagler (personal communication, April 1, 2016) points out that Gandhi could certainly take the lead at times:

When a campaign was going on, he said, I am your general and I expect you to obey me implicitly. But he also said, the minute you don’t want me, I’m out of here. Also, during the Salt March, he said, if I am arrested, it goes down to these 75 followers. If they’re all arrested, it goes to the next 100,000 people and if they’re all arrested, you’re on your own. So the leadership can devolve, you know, but there will be leadership. That’s what I mean by holding it loosely. And as in the Mondragon co-operatives, anyone can take training to become a manager. If you’re a manager, you can earn a bigger salary than if you’re a line worker who just came in last week, but it can only be three times bigger and you’re not a manager for life. After the end of three years, five years, something like that, they take a look at your performance. If you did a bad job, you’ll be out. You won’t be fired but you’ll be shifted to a non-managerial position… various people rise up in various conditions.

While Gandhi would sometimes dictate, it is very important to remember what Michael is pointing out: Gandhi was there, only if people wanted him there. As I have already pointed out, this is key for an anti-authoritarian movement. He did not claim or seek ultimate authority. His involvement helped to make the movement disciplined, but Gandhi does not hold power-over others. They can remove him from his leadership and they can also leave if they want to. This is perfectly in line with his plans for village organisation where members of the village choose members of a village council, as outlined in the last chapter. It is also in line with anarchist thought. To return to Ward (1973), Gandhi has authority, but he is not in authority, meaning he does not exert power-over others, through oppression and exploitation. Ward’s conception of anarchist leadership is also consistent with the other point that Michael is making, and this is that leadership rises and falls. Leaders rise up when needed – for example, when Gandhi is arrested — but they do not gain any permanent privileging powers when this happens. Accepting this, while Anarchists may be sceptical of leaders such as Gandhi, in practice his leadership is not contradictory to anarchist values.

The relationship that Gandhi had with those who followed him — between follower/student and leader/teacher — obviously involves a lot of trust, as the follower is following the leaders instructions. According to many of the interview participants, it is the transparency of the leader and their willingness to take responsibility upon themselves, consistently across their life, which allows for this. Not everyone, therefore, has the qualifications to be a suitable leader. Yogesh Kamdar (personal communication, February 1, 2017) points this out:

One thing which Mahatma Gandhi had and which we as a society and as individuals lack, is the complete transparency about one’s own life and honesty, the moral courage to admit the mistakes. In his life, he admitted a number of mistakes that he committed and he abandoned those issues and those causes. So that moral courage and that honesty and transparency, very few people individually have it and of course, as a society, we almost do not at it.

According to the interview participants who spoke on this topic, the actions and consistence of the leaders had given them moral weight. Because the leaders were respected, ordinary people joined or gave resources to members of the movement. Many who did not actively join the movement gave food and shelter, for example, to people in the bhoodan movement as they walked from village to village, or in the form of tools and other resources that could be used by people in the gramdan villages. In Tridip Suhrud’s (personal communication, January 24, 2017) words, leaders like Gandhi who are seen to struggle inspire changes in culture and respect: “You would find that somebody like Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi or even a Dalai Lama through their exile or through their imprisonment, create that culture.” He went on to give a concrete example about imprisonment, stating that it was Gandhi’s willingness to go to prison that helped others overcome the barriers that they had to getting arrested and being imprisoned too. When Gandhi goes to prison as a result of his nonviolent action, other people feel more confident in going to prison themselves. Vinoba and JP inspired in the same way, as they lived what they were preaching.

We know from research on the successfulness of nonviolent campaigns that participation is vital (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011), and on top of this, that a consistent engagement of 3.5% of the population in nonviolent resistance, over examples from the last century, has always overturned regimes (Chenoweth, 2017). Taking this into account, leadership like that of Vinoba, Gandhi and JP should be taken very seriously, as it had the ability to mobilise people. On top of that, not only did they mobilise people, but many people dedicated their lives to these movements, dropping everything else in the process. When considering this, their leadership method cannot be scoffed at. I am not suggesting, as the Gandhians who participated in this research were not either, that you should wait for a leader to act. However, the three sarvodaya leaders do appear to be examples of anarchist leadership done well, and by done well, I mean that they remained or became increasingly consistent with anarchist principles and built the movement at the same time. However, I do not wish to claim that they were perfect. They made mistakes. The movement became divided between Vinoba and JP, and both had shortcomings in their actions.[84]

Following the Leader

The discussion of leadership so far has centred on the leader and their interaction with others, while alluding to the fact that Gandhi aimed to build structures that did not need his direct involvement in order to operate. As will be clear, these discussions about leadership are about the individual leaders’ self-restraint and commitment to their own cause. It is important to now mention the other side of the coin by discussing what it means to follow a leader like Gandhi, Vinoba or JP. How do people engage with leaders, in a way consistent with Gandhian ideals? The comments provided by the participants reinforce the anarchistic nature of leadership in the Gandhian movement. Many participants were quick to point out that Gandhi was an experimenter, and this needs to be remembered by people who follow him in order to avoid dogma. Anand Mazgaonkar (personal communication, January 24, 2017) said:

My theory is that an institution at best survives for one working generation, meaning 20 to 30 years. Ideology, at the most, maybe two generations. After that, it becomes dogmatic. It becomes an ism. People start going back to the scripture. There’s a printed word which becomes gospel. That’s the problem I have with icons, that’s the problem I have with ideologies, isms, and to that extent, I think a lot of Gandhians have done damage to Gandhi.

He continued:

Gandhi was an experimenter and was constantly evolving. He conducted a lot of experiments in his own life and a lot of his followers, quote, unquote followers, so-called followers, picked up the rituals, picked up the rudimentary things, picked up the superficial things. So, for them, Gandhi was like a set of actions, if you like, a set of beliefs and rituals. A lot of the experiments that one conducts, you know, might be a fad. For instance, Gandhi’s experiments with diet and nutrition would pass off as a fad. Flag waving, reliance on the printed word, reliance on books, reliance on some rituals, some set rules – this kills the faculty of thinking.

In short, following the leader in a dogmatic way removes the ability to be critical and destroys creativity, because dogma puts an end to experimentation, which is at the core of Gandhi’s approach to creating a nonviolent society. It is the opposite of anarchism, when we view anarchism as an action, as discussed above. Anand’s view is that nonviolence cannot be something that is static. This fits with concerns raised by Thomson’s (1993, p. 273) work on the progression of Gandhi’s ashrams, decades after his death. Thomson notes that “today’s exponents of selfless asceticism, daily spinning and fasting in the cause of truth and non-violence perhaps forget that the key to Gandhi’s effectiveness as an activist was his ability to communicate with the people and co-ordinate activities to raise their consciousness.” From this we can conclude that Gandhi was not wholly successful in his attempts to institutionalise his message within the practice of some Gandhian institutions, while this did not appear to be true of interview participants, raising similar concerns to Anand.

Daniel (personal communication, February 2, 2017) offered some thoughts on engaging with leaders, from advice given to him by a Quaker activist and friend, George Willoughby:

…George warned me, Daniel when you are speaking amongst Americans, don’t try to put Vinoba on a pedestal. So, I followed that advice. Even now, Vinoba no doubt is great, but I don’t put him on a pedestal. Many people put leaders on pedestals and think that there is nobody else like that. That’s wrong. In this way I got a good training from them.

This also speaks to Anand’s perspective. Putting leaders on a pedestal can run the risk of creating dogma. To return to Ward (1973, p. 43), it increases the chance that the leader becomes in authority. What is crucial is self-empowerment and action, along with constant learning in how to exist in anti-authoritarian ways. People need to create their own experiments, and they do not need a leader like Gandhi, Vinoba or JP, in order to start acting. This was a perspective shared by all participants, and again speaks to the anarchistic nature of the sarvodaya movement, as it rejects power-over. Yogesh (personal communication, February 1, 2017) speaks to this, saying that we do not need great leaders in order to do great things:

…Presupposes that other human beings can’t otherwise act rationally unless and until either there is a strong, whether it’s a spiritual strong leader or a military strong leader. But I am of the opinion that human beings ought to function rationally out of their own conscience rather than just because of the influence of the leader is a very risky thing for any society. A society must have an inbuilt mechanism to correct its route and correct its path other than waiting for a great Mahatma to descend from heaven and to show us the light. That’s not a very healthy situation for a society. It’s a good thing to have a good leader. Undoubtedly it’s a good thing. However, it must start with me and not because of somebody’s influence on me. A good leader may help. In a society of one billion people, how can one good leader do the magic?

This perspective shares parallels with views expressed by anarchist thinker, Murray Bookchin, when he described his personal shift from Marxism to anarchism (Bookchin, 1971). His key issue with Marxism speaks to Anand’s concern with the creation and practice of Gandhian dogma. In the documentary film, Anarchism in America (Fischler and Sucher, 1983), Bookchin states:

The factory, which is supposed to organise the workers, in Marx’s language, mobilise them and instil in them the class consciousness that is to stem out of a conflict between wage labour and capital, in fact had created habits of mind in the worker that served to regiment the worker. That served in fact to assimilate the worker to the work ethic, to the industrial routine, to hierarchical forms of organisation, and that no matter how compellingly Marx had argued that such a movement could have revolutionary consequences, in fact such a movement could have nothing but a purely adaptive function, an adjunct to the capitalist system itself.

Reliance on dogma or trying to replicate the Gandhi by literally copying him, removes the critical and rebellious elements that are necessary for a truly libertarian society to develop. Contention and rebelliousness, experimentation and creativity are necessary to stop dogma from making the movement stale (see also Bookchin, 1971). Gandhi was aware of this, not just through his emphasis on experimentation, but also in his willingness to agitate not only against the British, but also within his willingness to agitate within the independence movement, especially through his fasts unto death. This was a kind of creative agonism in action (see Shinko, 2008), which dogma stifles.

Engaging with Marxists

So far, in this chapter, I have outlined Gandhian engagement with others, and from this, the role of leadership. I will finish this chapter with some reflections from interview participants on how they have tried to communicate with India’s Naxalites/Maoists. I briefly expressed the reason for highlighting this topic at the beginning of the chapter: Maoism in India can be seen as a competing ideology that pursues a total revolution of society (Ostergaard, 1985). But it is also because of this that they can be seen as potential allies. Both have focused primarily on rural India. It is also an ideology that rejects Gandhi, and as the first section of this chapter suggests, has a different conception of truth and a different way of engaging with those it opposes. A key difference here is that the Maoists believe in the efficacy of violent revolution. The engagement between Maoists and Gandhians emerges after Gandhi’s death, and this may be a reason why the relationship between to the two is barely mentioned in Gandhian literature. Despite this, many of the interview participants talked about it.

How groups interact with other groups that they are not in direct conflict with is an important question for any anarchistic vision. Gandhi’s example in his lifetime has been outlined above. He was always open to the other, but also willing to engage in a nonviolent and conflictual manner with them, as he did with his hunger strikes against communal violence and the British Raj giving Dalit’s their own political channels.[85] As I have said, this approach is agonistic, nonviolent and embraces conflict (Shinko, 2008). It appears that when Gandhian’s have engaged with the Maoists in recent years, they have followed a similar approach. Literature that mentions Gandhian/Maoist engagement states that the sarvodaya movement is generally quite open to engagement with Maoists (Narayanasamy, 2003, p. 9), and expectedly, the interview participants reflected this. However, I must state at the beginning that this does not appear to be a primary aim of Gandhian groups, or happen on a regular basis. Anand talked about this in some detail, highlighting similarities and conflicts between the two movements:

I have sympathy for a lot of the Maoist ideals, those who fight for justice. I have often seen them do, quote, unquote, a better job than a lot of Gandhians. I’m not a blind blanket supporter of Gandhians or opponent of Maoists. A lot of Gandhians have gone soft and talk a Gandhian language because that becomes a justification to maintain the status quo or maintain their privileged lives. I see a lot of more honest Maoists who are apparently violent but who are more honest to their cause, whereas a lot of Gandhians aren’t. The issue I have with Maoists is that they cannot be transparent in their planning and therefore they cannot be democratic in their planning. Power into their hands will not automatically lead to justice (A. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

There have been two major barriers to the two sides engaging with each other. Some interview participants reflected that, at times, Maoists have been heavily monitored by the state, which made meeting difficult. Some conversations did happen with members of the Communist Party who were followed less, but they were “superficial” conversations. Others reflected on the times where the Maoists did not want to listen. This second barrier relates, according to a couple of the interviewees, to the points made at the beginning of the chapter: Marxist claims to irrefutable knowledge often mean they do not want to listen to alternative visions. Dilip shared his feeling about this:

The comrades don’t wish to talk about anything that lies outside their theory. You have to speak their version of Latin, as it were. You have to speak their language, otherwise there is a problem. I relate with Gandhi because he speaks a totally different language and yet we can have a conversation. Why must only those of us speak who know Marx and Lenin? I’m prepared to engage in it provided they are willing to listen and have a conversation on an equal basis, but if there’s no equality then a dialogue becomes impossible. (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

Conflict resolution theory on negotiation and mediation recognises that for progress to occur, there needs to be willingness from both parties to engage with each other (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009, p. 21). If one side does not want to speak, you cannot speak. Multiple interview participants shared Dilip’s position. From this, as would probably be expected, attempts to engage with the Maoists, at least among the participants interviewed, appear to have varied success.[86] As I have stated previously, while the Gandhian method of engaging with others may be philosophically sound and may have had successes, it is not a miracle cure that will work in all circumstances. Anand talked about experiences, which one with another participant, Sandeep Pandey, was also involved in. One was an attempt to support Maoists, and another was about being attacked by them; neither appears to have resulted in direct success:

Six years ago, a team of us, between 25 and 30 people, including Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey… went to a Maoist area for peace talks. To simplify this, I’m not telling you the whole story, but for peace talks. We were attacked. The incident was on film and was put on YouTube. We are attacked by a thousand people throwing stones and eggs, tomatoes, rotten tomatoes, gutter water, you know. So, we went there, and while we did not support the Maoists in their means, we were there. There was violence against Maoists, and we said that we would do an investigation, and we were attacked by anti-Maoists. I also have friends who’ve been attacked by Maoists too, for being quote, unquote, government stooges. So, I’ve stated my position. I have sympathy for a lot of the things that they say. On means, on violence, on transparency, on democracy, there are issues, but I see a lot of Maoists being more honest than a lot of Gandhians. But, I’m not saying there are more honest Maoists than Gandhians. That’s not what I’m saying (A. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

Here, you can see an attempt to engage with the Maoists, going beyond purely being open to talks. This experience alludes to another complication, that supporting the Maoists also has the potential to provoke and create conflict with other groups. I assume, given that the Indian government considers the Maoists a major security threat, that deep engagement would also invoke a response from the state. While these experiences shared by Anand had violent outcomes, another participant, Rajiv Vora, shared some successes. Rajiv runs camps and workshops on nonviolence and Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj training. He does this in areas where there is arguably the most conflict in India, in Kashmir and in Maoist controlled areas. He said:

I work in Bihar in the Maoist insurgency area. And those Maoists who used to carry arms two years back are now doing nonviolence camps and campaigns. We did this experiment to re-establish the efficacy of nonviolence. Nonviolence did not mean to them anything. Nothing would have changed them in Kashmir or there. But as this idea of Swaraj, that fires up people’s imagination like anything, even today in India. Put rightly in its proper context and without dilution and without any synthesis (R. Vora, personal communication, January 20, 2017).

Rajiv sees that talking about swaraj caused a breakthrough in the workshops he runs, and we can see reasons for this that link back to the discussions above. Swaraj, to recap, is about everyone having their own self-rule. By talking about this topic, Rajiv is not imposing things on them, but getting them to engage with the topic of Swaraj, and Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj. It is about empowerment and is work that breaks down barriers between people and breaks down systems of thought and action that produce violent authority because it inherently opposes them. Rajiv (personal communication, January 20, 2017) shared an inspiring story that came out of one of the camps he ran in Bihar:

A very astute, a very strong, popular Maoist leader, a Naxalite as they call it. He used to come incognito in my camps I used to hold… the next morning he came to me. It was a four-day programme with Hind Swaraj and nonviolence training. Others had warned me and my wife. “You know who has come.” “You will be in trouble.” Nothing happened. And he is a very powerful leader. And the next morning, after two days, he said “all night I did not sleep. I read through the entire book and what I find is that you want to lift up our spirits. You don’t want to give us projects like other NGOs do, but we are working on our spirits and our mind.” When he was leaving the camp he told one of our senior workers in Bihar, he said “I found what I was searching for.” He used to be covered by 20 gun wielding Naxalites. That is the clout this man had. So I said this is Hind Swaraj, this is because of Hind Swaraj, not Rajiv Vora.

Rajiv engages in a Gandhian way which could again be described as an agonist approach. He and his organisation engage with others as equals, meaning that they do not impose an ideology on others, but create change out of linear rather than hierarchical engagement.


In conclusion, an important question, from a Gandhian perspective, for how we should act as we try to create a nonviolent world, is how do we engage with others? This goes beyond not killing; communicating with all truthfully and aiming to lift everybody up in the process. Their focus goes deeper than not killing, and instead looks at how to act with love. The opposite of an attitude of love, is anger, which when taken to its extreme leads to killing. In their approach, the Gandhians have tried to look at, and pull out, the root causes of killing and violent conflict.

Gandhi, Vinoba and JP showed a great ability to connect with a large range of people, and win people to their cause. What we can hear through the interview participants is that their way of engaging with people was key to this. This has really concrete outcomes, as shown by this quote from Daniel Mazgaonkar. His view was that Gandhi’s communication was more in line with the people of the villages than the Marxists, and in his approach to others being more open and adaptable to different situations:

I think Gandhi and Marx were one in many ways, so I don’t create any fight amongst them. I mean the analysis was different, the language was different. Gandhi was speaking and writing in the language of the village people so that every village person would understand. In the same way Vinoba also spoke in the simplest of the language. In Hindi, Marathi, or Gujarati. Once, he was relating his experience of speaking in the jail, not outside to politicians. He would always observe the faces of people, and their faces were bland, so he changed, and then their faces changed. Gandhi’s power was that as well. He was in the heart of the people. Gandhi was one with the most common people of the country or of the whole world one could say (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

Any attempt to live anarcho-pacifism must engage with these ideas, and not dismiss them as “liberal”, “unrealistic”, or “politically naïve”. If this approach creates radical change in people and society — as Gandhi, Vinoba’s and JP’s movements appear to show it can – it is a radical approach. Open engagement with others is not a guarantee for success. It has had mixed results, as demonstrated with the engagements with the Maoists. But, where it has succeeded it gives examples for opening up space for conflict transformation within the framework of radical politics. Where it has not succeeded, it has not resulted in war and the horror that result from war. As a result, the Gandhian reflections give interesting learning for how to enact anarcho-pacifist theory successfully, and on a deeper level than described in the first half of this thesis. Combined with the fact that it is a different approach to most leftist revolutionary approaches, it warrants serious consideration and investigation.

In the next chapter, I will explore how this principle of truthful engagement with others is integrated into political organisation, thereby shifting the focus from individualist action to communal and structural action.

Chapter Eight: Reflections from Interviews 2 — Nonviolent Political Structures and Organisation Today

Gandhi… I think unlike any other thinker or leader in South Asia, for him, the individual, the institution and the struggle, all have to be aligned.

— Tridip Suhrud (personal communication, January 24, 2017)

This chapter focuses on the ins and outs of political organisation, and by doing this, moves from a focus on individualist action to structural and communal action. As with the previous chapter, the sub-headings that fall under this topic have been selected by identifying key themes that came out of the interview data. Interview participants spoke to questions about what we can learn from the past movements and how the participants organise now, as they participate in a range of activities. In this way, this chapter is about the practicalities of Gandhian organisation, rather than how one conducts themselves within organisation and resistance activities. It could also be seen as an update of the content in Chapter Six, because the findings in this chapter came out of discussions about Gandhi’s plan for a nonviolent village society and what this plan means in the modern day.

It should be clear by now that Gandhi himself saw political institutions as necessary for creating change, and that these institutions were to function in ways that are consistent with anarchist principles. This is a rather unique position, as Tridip Suhrud (personal communication, January 24, 2017) says:

I think the uniqueness of Gandhi is the set of political institutions or social or cultural institutions that he creates in very large numbers… from establishing a university to ashrams, to hospitals, to schools across the country, weaving centres, spinning centres, production centres, distribution chains, and he actually participates in all the meetings, minute making, elections, appointing secretaries and taking account of things. I don’t know of other political leaders in modern times having done that, at least on the sub-continent… I think the reason why political movements today, even in India, or social movements, are not able to take that final step is that we haven’t created corresponding institutional structures.

Gandhi put greater focus on politics of action rather than politics of demand (Day, 2004). All participants are engaged in politics of action in different forms of organisation that promote Gandhian values. Here, I will mostly focus on the participant’s thoughts about the practice of Gandhian politics in the modern day, and how this relates to theory. I will focus on how participants see these political structures as existing now. I do this under topics of: Gandhi’s village in modern times, technology, engagement with modern political and organisational entities (political parties and non-governmental organisations), and the uplift of women and Dalits. First, before delving into this, I will briefly address the question of whether the Gandhian vision and method is relevant for discussing the creation of nonviolent political organisations now.

Is Gandhi’s Thought Relevant for Thinking About Political Organisation Today?

I asked all of the participants about the applicability of the Gandhian approach to nonviolence and his village model in modern times, especially in the context of India, and the massive growth of mega-cities like Delhi and Mumbai. The consensus was that it was applicable, but with adaption. However, while applicable, participants viewed India’s modern cities as unsustainable and saw a shift towards smaller sustainable communities as a necessity. Kumar Prashant (personal communication, February 9, 2017) responded by emphasising that the basic problems for Gandhians during Gandhi’s lifetime still apply, and therefore, Gandhi certainly still holds relevance:

I don’t know why we pose the question like this, of how far Gandhian methods are relevant. What was special about then? If it was relevant then, then it is relevant now. I think that there is no special situation, no special dimension, which exists now which was not there at that time. Human beings are the same. The problems are the same. The reactions are the same. So, because some technological advancement has occurred, I don’t think there is a change from the condition of then and the condition of now. It is not a question of then and now. It is a question of how we want to interact with our society. Do we want to interact with force? Do we want to interact with consultation? Or do we want to interact with our society by the sheer force of love?

This speaks directly to the previous chapter. Gandhi’s method should not be turned into a dogma, but used as a force of love. Gandhi was an experimenter who was committed to creating positive social change while acting from a motivation of love. Kumar (personal communication, February 9, 2017) continued:

If you decide that you want to deal with your society by force, Gandhi is not relevant at all. If you want to deal with your society with consultation, by legislation, or by laws, by government, then you have to miss-match, some things taken from Gandhi, some from here and there. If you want to deal with the situation, with people, with the force of love, then Gandhi comes into the picture. Love is not the weapon of the weak. Love is not the weapon of the person who does not know what to do.

Gandhi’s village was an extension of this force of love, an experiment in it. From this point of view, we can see that it would be naïve to assume that Gandhi’s village plan was to be taken as an unchangeable blueprint, relevant across time and space in the exact form that Gandhi envisioned it in the 1930s or 1940s. While many parts of it may still be relevant, Gandhi would expect for it to be adapted, and for experimentation to continue. He himself was constantly adapting and changing during his life, and Vinoba and JP adapted and changed after him. Rajiv elaborates on this:

This facilitated an environment where man can be moral. So when Mahatma Gandhi talks about the village, he talks of that. The village of his idea. Not the village of that particular time when Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru etc. lived… Mahatma Gandhi sees, visualises, self-governing units of Indian society… If you reconstruct India on its own civilisation ethos, when exploitation of men by men and exploitation of nature by men is most minimised. This movement restores minimisation and not maximisation. [In modernity] the whole idea is the maximisation of the exploitation of the environment by man and all of the resources that men have. And similarly, the maximisation of the exploitation of man by man. Only then can you have the modern economy (R. Vora, personal communication, January 20, 2017).

While it is clear from the interviews that participants see Gandhi’s method being as relevant now as it was during the Mahatma’s life, there is a question over what the Gandhian organisation looks like now, or what Gandhians think it should look like, over thirty years after the deaths of JP and Vinoba. Little research has been conducted on this topic, but the participants had much to offer. Dilip sees aspects that would be unrealistic in the original Gandhian plan, but the basis of Gandhi’s vision is still important and there is much that can be taken forward. Like others, he emphasised the importance of finding ways to look after the earth, and that there are ways to do this based on traditional Indian knowledge. He started his explanation by responding to those who may reject Gandhi’s plan out-right, or call it out-dated:

Gandhi’s utopian visions were grounded in respect for nature and respect for human life. They were always open ended. One could always engage in a dialogue about what is going on.. going back to respecting the countryside, respecting the Earth, not polluting the Earth, looking after water resources. A very famous Gandhian has just passed away who is an expert in water resources. He had studied the methods by which traditional Indian society maintained its water resources, how it preserved standing water, how it collected in the desert, how to collect drinking water for the whole family, overnight. (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

He says that those who criticise Gandhi’s vision (while accepting aspects of it may not be tenable), need to look at the realities of the modern society that has been created following the formation of the Indian nation-state and its centralisation and industrialisation:

There are gigantic slums. We have not shown ourselves capable of living in an urban society that is well regulated and equitable. Large numbers of people perform menial services for a small number of people and there is no sign of this changing. So, the migration of people from villages to cities is not accompanied by any social progress or any betterment in education and living standards or health or preservation of water. In fact, it’s creating a crisis in urban areas. Rivers are getting polluted. The air is becoming polluted. Who can deny that now we are living in one of the most polluted cities in the world? It is pointless criticising Gandhi when we have not done anything with the mechanisation that we have attained. We are poisoning one another. So there is something to be said for respect for a slow pace of life. There is something to be said for slowing down. You don’t need to keep producing because this rate of production will create more pollution, besides which, it will never create adequate consumption for everybody (D. Simeon, personal communication, December 30, 2016).

In Dilip’s comments, we see the first point of contemporary relevance of the Gandhian plan on a structural level. As discussed, capitalist production, supported by the state more than moderated by it, has created massive environmental problems. With the expansion of capitalism, we have seen these problems becoming more extreme and being scaled up from the local to the global level (Harman, 2010). Nowhere is this made clearer than in Delhi, which regularly gets engulfed in a haze of red smog. Gandhi’s environmentalism was ahead of its time, and as a result, I think it is fair to say that this aspect of his thought has been under appreciated. A shift towards sustainable and thriving rural life, that is not pushing carbon into the atmosphere, would certainly be positive. However, the Gandhian movement’s focus has, in the movements born from Gandhi and Vinoba, has been a focus on the village. It has, as Guha (1995) suggests, neglected urban environmental problems as it focused on the village (Guha, 1995).

India is a country with enormous cities. It is possible that while the solutions to India’s problems can be found in more sustainable smaller settlements, this message may not get across to people who work in the cities. Many people have left the villages because of the need for wealth and opportunities, and only village development will reverse that trend. Can people in the cities see positives in Gandhi’s methods if they cannot see it in front of them in the cities? Maybe not. On the other hand, if Gandhians work in the cities, how will village development take place? The answer is unknown and I am in no position to offer judgement on this. Even at its height, Vinoba’s movement was not wealthy, as Ostergaard (1985) points out, which means that significant work in the cities may not have been possible. Given the fact that Vinoba was concerned that gramdan had not been consolidated at the start of JP’s movement against Indira Gandhi, that they did not broaden their scope at this point is understandable.[87] However, as I will outline now, Gandhians clearly see how issues with the urban/rural divide can be rectified.[88]

Martin (2001, p. 84), in talking about sarvodaya as an alternative to capitalism, states that: “The idea of village democracy would require adaptation to be relevant to urban and suburban living, but it is not so far from notions of participatory democracy and experiences of community organising.” However, Martin (2001, p. 84) offers another critique of the sarvodaya movement that may prevent its acceptance as an alternative to the capitalist-state, especially outside of India, but also within modern India. He writes:

Sarvodaya’s commitment to bread labour is so alien as to be almost incomprehensible. Occupational specialisation is so elaborate in capitalist economies that bread labour appears only possible in some reversion to an agricultural society. Therefore this component would need some revamping to be relevant to a society with a high division of labour.

It should be noted that Gandhi did not design his plan for outside India, or foresee it as something static in the time he proposed it. He was also concerned with evening out the imbalance between the cities and villages, returning villages to the centre of society, as they once were when their flourishing was more important for the survival and flourishing of towns. The concept of bread labour probably does not have broad appeal at this point in time. However, the essence of bread labour where “the motivating force [for working] is caring, love, service” is what leftist movements ultimately aim for with the overthrow of capitalism (Diwan, 1985b, p. 119). On top of this, as Gandhi suggests, reducing the division of labour, even if it does not go as far as what Gandhi envisions, could help create a more equal and sustainable society, reducing class divisions. In this way, there are still points of familiarity.

Daniel Mazgaonkar gave ways that Gandhian organisation can be applied to the city, in the apartment he now lives in. His view, like the other participants, is that the Gandhian plan is applicable, with some adaptation to modern times. He said:

It seems that it is impossible for city life not to be dependent on the market, but Gandhi visualised small communities where they will have their own small industry and each could contribute. In that sense, that can be applied here… So, we have this building and the next building. We have 42 flats here and the other has 74 flats. All of these people, or their representatives, one from each family, can sit together and think of issues: the road, the water, health, the gutters… so Gandhi would think that we should take responsibility and get involved (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

In European Anarchist terms, this model could be compared to setting up communes within a city. Daniel is saying that the village model that Gandhi envisioned can be taken and applied to small parts of a city, such as a couple of high rise buildings, where people take control of their surrounds and do not rely on the state to fix problems. I was told by a couple of interviewees that there was Gandhian work occurring in some slums. I was unable to follow up on this, but it would suggest that action is happening on some level within cities. This is also interesting, as the slums operate, in many ways, separately from the state. This is swadeshi applied to the city.

Daniel states that while he sees how Gandhian ways of organising can be applied to city life, this is not happening now, and if it were to happen, there needs to be a change in behaviour: specifically, he noted that if “‘untouchables’ are far away, it is not possible” and that “we need to take interests in the lives of people, especially those who are at a disadvantage.” In short, to have a community function in the way that Gandhi envisioned, you have to first build connections with others, which relates directly back to the previous chapter on how to engage with others. Daniel sees the essential element that is needed for any community structure to function is its ability to share. He says:

A village has become one family. If that happens then your interests and my interests will not clash. What is good for you is good for me also. And what is good for the rich is good for the poor. One Gandhian leader gave a very good example of how the rich are created, or capitalism is created. Suppose you dig the land and put all of the land to one side, there becomes a small hill. That is capitalism. Because you dig into the wealth of society to create capitalism. If the ground is level then there is no rich and poor. So, that is how it is. In our society, there are lots of ditches and lots of hills (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

Gandhi’s Village in Modern Times

So far, three points have been outlined. First, Gandhi offers an approach to change for those who are, to borrow Vinoba’s phrase “moved by love”. He does not offer a rigid plan to be implemented, a dogma, although some may follow him in this way. Second, while some may dismiss the Gandhian vision as unrealistic in these modern times, they should take note of the failures of modern political systems, notably, the negative effect on the environment. Gandhi offers solutions for these problems, and the solutions are based within India. Third, the Gandhian approach can still be practised, even within the cities, but for this to happen successfully it is important to engage with others with love, as this allows for the building of a positively functioning community: without this, there will be clashes between members of the community. However, the implementation of sarvodaya within urban India has never been on a large scale, as reflected in the literature on the movement and Gandhi and Vinoba’s writings.[89] The lack of work in the urban environment may be a shortcoming of the movement as it has existed. However, Gandhi’s work is not dogma, and interview participants were confident in the applicability of Gandhian political organisation and structures within the cities.

Multiple interview participants are engaged in village work today as part of their activism. Anand Mazgaonkar is one of these, and in his view, the approach to village work now is similar to in Gandhi’s time, but with modern additions. He lists, for example, that nonviolent change will require: “looking at production systems, looking at agriculture, organic agriculture, natural farming, small scale technologies, alternative energy sources. These would be the boots on the ground to capture territory in a battle of nonviolence” (A. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, January 24, 2017). Here, we see a response to Martin (2001) that suggests that village work now is not identical to Gandhi’s written plans. The emphasis is still clearly on experimentation, not replication of Gandhi. This is both on the village level and on the individual level. Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017) continued:

In my 30 years of experience, in my 30 years of work, we have conducted various experiments. So, we’ve worked on a one village level, mainly on that kind of a scale. By this I mean living in one village, living like the people, living a simple life, doing experiments on the ground, working with our hands, getting our hands dirty, doing manual labour, etc.… believing that that could be a model, if not a model of change, at least something that is an experiment, which educates us in the way forward. We did that for a good 10 years or so, [on a] one village, five village level, that kind of a scale. We slowly graduated out of that because we were also affected by macro level policies, you know.

In fact, Anand’s experience, along with others, is one of moving between different levels of organisation, on different scales, for different purposes; sometimes resisting, sometimes building, and sometimes both. He talked about one of these experiments in depth, and how changes occur, shifting from micro to macro work, from constructive work to resistance. I quote him at length to provide an insight into what this looks like:

I lived in an adivasi village for seven, eight years and we said, let’s root out violence and disputes in this village. We would try to prevent local, intra-village disputes from going to the police, for instance. You know, conflict resolution within the village. Or [we would work for] self-reliance in the most basic needs: food, water, working on people’s farms etc. I did that for a good many years. Then we [India] had embraced what we call LPG, the new liberal economic policies starting in the early 90s and we were going in for a big push towards industrialisation. Hazardous chemicals were being introduced. Manufacturing facilities were being set up here and there. [There was] ground water contamination and there was river pollution, air pollution and health issues. So, we tried to mobilise people. That was our macro level engagement. We started fighting mining. We started fighting industrial pollution. From one village, we graduated to a macro level, which we continued to do in some ways. Our focus shifts every now and then. For instance, one moment we might be seen to be fighting displacement. Another moment, we might be fighting a nuclear power plant being set up somewhere… We’ve been able to fight a proposed nuclear power plant about 250 kilometres from here [Ahmedabad]. That struggle, we’ve been engaged in for a good nine or ten years and we’ve been able to stop it. We’ve been able to stop one of the biggest nuclear power projects in India. We’ve been able to mobilise farmers to nonviolently resist.. So, it’s a whole range, you know, from organic farming, personal simple living, to fighting nuclear power, nuclear energy and the arms’ race it leads to (A. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

In much Gandhian activism, as demonstrated in Anand’s comments, what is often referred to as lifestyle and social anarchism, within anarchist circles, is bridged. The former focuses on living anarchism in everyday life, often engaging in smaller scale projects. In this way, it is more individualistic (White, 2011, p. 92). Social anarchism holds large aims for a mass revolutionary movement that will overthrow capitalism and the state. Within the anarchist tradition, there as been a debate about whether the two can exist together. Bookchin (1995) triggered this debate in a famous article that argued that the two forms were incompatible. In the view of many social anarchists, lifestyle anarchism is apolitical and cannot create macro level change. However, many anarchists see the two as compatible (Portwood-Stacer, 2013, p. 6).[90]

Gandhian action gives an example of how the two can be integrated (Shah, 2009; Llewellyn, 2017). Anand’s description of his work speaks to this as he works to build nonviolent society and resists violence with nonviolent methods. The success of the movement against the building of a nuclear power plant suggests that individualistic and communal action — on local, regional and even national scales — can exist together as activists move between one and the other. We can also see this in Gandhi and Vinoba’s action as they spin on the charkha every day while also leading mass movements. We can also see it in how they would periodically return to their ashrams, and then emerge to launch new mass campaigns when the time was right.

To allow the fluidity between micro and macro levels of activism, and the local, regional and national focuses, multiple interviewees stressed the need for adaptability. This is adaptability in organising, in planning, in focus. Successful organisation requires constant adaption, engaging in praxis, and compromise. This often means that the balance between micro and macro organising shifts depending on the political environment. This position links back to the focus on experimentation rather than following predetermined and unchangeable blueprints.

It is important to note, as this discussion is about villages in India today, that India’s villages now have a certain level of recognition and power under Indian law, with the introduction of the Panchayat Raj Act in 1992. The panchayats (“village councils”) are recognised as part of the political system of India, but this does not represent Gandhi’s vision of panchayats in his nonviolent society.[91] As Sandeep (personal communication, January 25, 2017) alludes to here, there are many issues within the panchayat system, although the Act did decentralise power in India to a certain extent:

Decentralisation of financial powers has definitely taken place, and, because of this, corruption has also been decentralised. Now the corruption that used to take place at the central or the state government levels is a common phenomena in the panchyats. But then, on the other hand, panchayats also have rights. More rights than they had before. People are asserting themselves slowly… So, one nice thing that just happened is that at the panchayat level, you now have a 33 percent reservation for women to get elected to these posts [unlike at the state level]. So women’s participation has definitely increased. The participation of marginalised communities like Dalits has also increased.

While this is a positive societal progression, it does not yet fit with an anarchist vision. This is partly because it exists in a hierarchy, with the head of state at the top, but also because, in many cases, the interview participants see the panchayats replicating negative aspects of society: namely, sexism and casteism. This is a similar point as was made about the reflective nature of political parties. As Tridip Suhrud (personal communication, January 24, 2017) states, “if the panchayat, while being democratic, is replicating the social structure, it becomes actually something that is not an act of freedom. It would be an act of subjugation.” The problem was highlighted by Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017):

How it works is that when it’s a seat [on the panchayat] reserved for women, it’s the woman’s husband. The woman is elected in name, but it’s her husband usually who calls the shots. When it’s a Dalit, it’s usually their masters, quote, unquote, their masters, their landowners, their employers who actually call the shots in their names.

The picture painted by the interview participants is clearly that while there has been progress, the panchayat raj system is not in the same vein as Gandhi’s thought: it is not an experiment in nonviolence.

There is one final reflection on the role of leadership in institutionalising village change that I think is important to share, and this relates to the role of a leader in ensuring good political institutions and process. [92] Interviewees and commentators of the movement, such as Ostergaard (1985), recognise the importance of institutions and the consolidation of these structures so that they become rooted within communities. However, there are periods in the movement’s history where it appears to have been unsuccessful at achieving this, despite clear success stories, such as those provided in the data here and by others (Shepard, 1987).

Failures in this regard have been largely put down to leadership decisions. This is also where some points of learning come out from the interviews, as many of the interview participants thought that some of the sarvodaya leaders were better at this than others. As Tridip (personal communication, January 24, 2017) says, “you have to imagine the kind of demands that a political life would make on you and therefore begin to design your institutional structures in such a way that it can begin to answer those questions.” The different sarvodaya leaders had different successes in the survival of the institutions they created and worked within. For example, Vinoba had been very successful in gaining land, but not always successful in ensuring its distribution.

While I was in India talking to the interview participants, an article was published in The Times of India, entitled “Bhoodan, 52,000 Acres for Landless Gathering Bureaucratic Dust” (John, 2017). This reinforces the critiques in the literature (Ostergaard, 1985; Linton, 1971; Shepard, 1987).[93] Gandhi appeared to be more successful in creating the institutional mechanisms to consolidate change, which means he was more successful in getting the political structures, described in Gandhi and Vinoba’s writings, to function by themselves. Tridip sees this as a key difference between Gandhi’s movement and Vinoba’s bhoodan movement. While both had incredible moral sway, Gandhi would more often consolidate decisions made through his interactions with people by creating a formal process. In contrast, talking of Vinoba, Tridip (personal communication, January 24, 2017) said:

He did not necessarily have the capability or even the desire to create institutional structures, which enabled that change to take place. What he does not necessarily either realise or recognise or even probably understand I would say, is that change to be, be made permanent requires institutional processes. The Bhoodan movement was a great revolutionary idea. However, what happened was that in no state were Vinoba or his followers able to create a process of redistribution. For example, in the state of Gujarat… they collected 100,000 acres of land across the state, which is a large amount of land. It has been 60 years and 50,000 acres of that land remains undistributed. So, I think the difference between Vinoba and Gandhi is this: Gandhi would have ensured that there are institutional processes, there are legal processes, there are fixed responsibilities and a reporting structure. Vinoba had this great idea and a great moral presence to say, give me this land and people actually responded in very large measure. At the same time, he did not have the capability of taking it to its logical conclusion. So I think the real difference between Gandhi and Vinoba is in the process and the structures through which you get things done. Gandhi would never rely upon an individual’s goodwill to see the entire process through. He would have said, all right, this is the land. These five people are responsible for creating a state level co-ordination committee and you will create a district level co-ordination committee and you will create a sub-divisional committee. And, I want a weekly report from each, and finally culminate in a state report every three months. So within the next year, all of the distribution is done.

Thinking about Village Technology Today

In the decades since Gandhi’s and even Vinoba’s and JP’s deaths, there have been huge technological advancements. It is also clear that Gandhi held a certain view on technology, as outlined in previous chapters, which was basically that technological “advancement” was only actually an advancement if it helped people to spiritually progress and form the nonviolent society. From Gandhi’s point of view, new political structures would only be nonviolent if they utalised non-exploitative technology. As a result, this is a key concern for the sarvodaya movement. Based on this, I asked interview participants what, if anything, had changed in Gandhian views towards technology in the movement since Gandhi’s time. Anand’s above already showed some types of technology that would be useful and is currently being explored within the villages he works in. These include advancements in organic agriculture and alternative energy systems that can benefit people and the earth. He illuminated further ways that technology could be explored; for tasks that are dirty, dangerous or delicate. Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017) said:

A lot of fadist Gandhian followers have created the impression, rather misimpression that Gandhi was against technology. Gandhi used the telegram… he was a proponent of machines. So, I would look at using technology where something is dirty. For things that Dalits have to do I would use equipment, tools and machines. For something that is very delicate. For something that is dangerous. Here, the use of technology would be welcome… In India we have people going into manholes, doing dirty work, cleaning people’s shit, you know. There’s no reason why human beings should be forced to do that.

He went on to explain a difference between his view and some other Gandhians, as he embraces Gandhi’s experimentation and pragmatism:

Those are areas where there’s no logical reason [not to use technology], even if Gandhi said no to the use of technology. That’s why I don’t call myself a Gandhian. I don’t believe Gandhi. Gandhi was very pragmatic and practical, you know. A lot of fadist Gandhians give a bad impression; give him a bad name. So, technology’s not a no, no. We are looking at appropriate technology. And appropriateness would probably be contextual. It would have to be seen in its local context. So something that is not right for India may be right for New Zealand. If you need heaters in New Zealand, there cannot be a blanket principle against that kind of technology. If you need to use a tractor in Australia, OK. In India, we don’t need a tractor because we have bullock carts to farm, whereas in Australia, you have a lot of land. If you’re using the land to meet hunger in the world, I have nothing against using tractors in Australia.

Here, again, we see that the decision-making is local, due to local needs. Here, the Gandhian method acts as a guide to how technology can be seen as useful or not, nonviolent or not. This is a perspective that again speaks to Martin (2001) above as it shows that at least within some of the movement, practitioners are not just open to adaption but are actively adapting or have in fact adapted. Some specific proposals by Gandhi may not be relevant outside of the local context that he envisioned them in. However, this does not mean that all technology is embraced, as much is still seen as harmful.[94]

Multiple interview participants said that in many rural areas, villagers see the introduction of new technologies as a threat, not as an improvement. In this way, they are falling in line with Gandhi’s thinking of many decades ago. New technology often brings danger, as with nuclear technology, or a threat to their livelihoods. Sandeep Pandey expressed that even the Indian government is now starting to recognise the social problems that arise from some modern technology. He said:

If you look at a recent programme that the government has implemented, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, they had to prevent machines from being used in work, mostly in rural areas, so that employment could be created for poor. So in a way, what Gandhi said has been proved to be true: That machines are a threat to the jobs of the poor (S. Pandey, personal communication, January 25, 2017).

Even without this government programme, rural workers have been opposing the introduction of technology in multiple areas. Sandeep continued:

We have seen how poor labourers oppose the use of big machine in agriculture. They burn these machines. They throw stones at them. These incidents have happened. In Punjab, they use these big harvesters and sometimes they bring them to Uttar Pradesh where people hire them, but we have heard of incidents where people have opposed these machines (S. Pandey, personal communication, January 25, 2017).

Critics may view the Gandhian position on technology as a rejection of science. The implication of this is that Gandhian political structures, due to their rejection of certain technologies, cannot exist in the modern world. Participants were very quick to point out that the Gandhian approach embraces science. However, this science is for the good of humanity rather than profit, and where possible, the Gandhian approach is based on the science of India. It had traditionally looked to India’s indigenous technology that is not designed for capitalist production and profit making, and is accessible; for example, a charkha is easier to build than a mill, with more social benefits.[95] The Gandhian approach arguably shows a way for India to move forward while removing the violence of modern civilisation.

Kumar Prashant (personal communication, February 9, 2017) discusses the links between science and technology:

Gandhi, as far as I understand, is totally for technology with one condition only: that we should use that technology which does not replace human effort. Man versus machine is not the Gandhian equation of science. Machines are a helpful tool for human beings. This is the Gandhian way of looking at science. Science and technology are different things. Science is about setting goals: We want everybody to be clothed, to have a house, to have a livelihood. This is the scientific goal. Now you have to evolve the technology to fulfil it. You can’t evolve a technology that concentrates control in few hands, or technology that is detrimental to lots of people.. If you think about this, then you can understand the Gandhian concept of technology. If I used the spinning wheel, that machine, daily, how can I speak against machines? My whole body is a machine. So I am not against machines at all. I am against the use of machines to replace human beings and cutting the hair of the human spirit. So, Gandhi is not against technology. The only thing is this: we have to determine what technology goes hand in hand with science.

Rajiv Vora spoke to the topic of Indian science as well, and of Gandhi’s revival of it. In his view modern capitalist technology and nonviolent technology, cannot be mixed:

Mahatma Gandhi knows that Indian science and technology is based on a different principle all together than the principle on which modern science and technology is based, so there can be no synthesis between the two. If you go for synthesis then one will cannibalise the other, which means that the modern will cannibalise the traditional. So Mahatma Gandhi’s stance was based upon the complete rejection of modernity, while at the same time being open about the good things of the West (R. Vora, personal communication, January 20, 2017).

Again, Rajiv points to the Gandhian approach, which recognises the mind and the mental effects of living under capitalism and/or colonisation. The path that allows us to break free from the violent mental effects of some technology is found by rejecting it. He explains this and suggests that there have been three approaches to deal with the technology of modern civilisation in India:

Human beings are basically good. It is the civilisation that grips them that is evil, not the European person. That civilisation — its knowledge system, its science and technology, its industries and all of the institutions that optimise the power of it — has gripped the West and now today the entire world. There is a big discontinuity between the traditional Indian system and the Western system. Many people did not understand this and still they don’t understand. So, in India we have three types of people… first, there were those who, in response to the West, want to synthesise… Modi’s party, the BJP, they are synthesisers. They think that we can synthesise our Vedas with modern knowledge. It’s stupid. Philosophically, it is stupid. Gandhi understood this. Secondly, there were those who accepted Westernism completely. Nehru and company, who said that it was the destiny of the entire human race. And the third, which became the first during Mahatma Gandhi’s lifetime, because he dominated the scene, was a rejection of the West. A rejection of modernity 100%. Not of the Western people, but the civilisation which has gripped the West (R. Vora, personal communication, January 20, 2017).

So far, we can see two clear things about the use of technology, within the envisioned nonviolent society, from the Gandhian perspective. First, technology is good if it is human focused, and in some villages, although I cannot say how many, new technologies are being explored. Second, if it is not — as is the case with Western capitalist technology — it should be rejected. Crucially, Rajiv points out that for this to happen there is a need for decolonisation. There needs to be recognition that the coloniser’s ideas, under British occupation but also now, are opposed to nonviolent aims. This solution of looking to Indian technologies is, of course, intended for India, but the process of looking for new solutions can be applied elsewhere in the world. The solution is, as Rajiv put it, “swaraj awareness”. As Anand suggested, the specific solutions of different communities will be different in different contexts.

I will finish this section on technology and the village by quoting Sandeep, as his comment nicely summarises sentiments from many of the interviews. He suggests that while there are difficulties in implementing the Gandhian vision – which is not held as a widespread aim in India, as it once during his lifetime — people will ultimately be forced towards Gandhian principles:

Day by day, it is becoming, difficult to implement Gandhian ideas because of the interference of the market. But, on the other hand, the situation being created by modern technology is such that we will be forced to go towards the Gandhian way in, in some areas. Because of the over exploitation of natural resources, almost every big project of the government is being opposed by people. Often, the reason for opposing them is because of some immediate threat that people face to their lives and livelihoods, but some of it is ideological too. People don’t consider these big industrial plants as something that will benefit the common people of this country. The other constraint that is being placed on modern industrial development is climate change, which has become an important issue. So these two things, climate change and the protests by people of any big development project now, I think, will put a ceiling on the magnitude and the speed at which you can industrialise, and ultimately they will have to come back to the kind of options that Gandhi was talking about (S. Pandey, personal communication, January 25, 2017).

Engagement with Modern Civilisation’s Organisational and Political Structures: Political parties and Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)

Political parties are regarded by many as an essential political structure in a functioning society. This is true from the left to the right of the political spectrum: from democrats, to authoritarians and to Marxists. However, as outlined above, Gandhi and Vinoba rejected political parties. All the participants, with one exception of a participant who is active in a socialist party, held this view.[96] Those who rejected political parties did so along the lines that parties work in a different way to the ideal presented at the last chapter, in that the political party system does not allow for the kind of communication that is needed to be nonviolent. This finding is unsurprising for an anarchistic movement. However, before going to India, my reading about JP’s involvement with political parties raised questions about the Gandhian rejection of political parties. For that reason, I brought it up as a discussion topic with many of the interview participants. I wanted to know about their current views on engaging in political forms of organisation that come out of the Western tradition of politics, and how they now see the best way to engage with them following on from the success and failures of JP and Vinoba’s movements. I will now outline their views, and then move onto discussions about engaging with non-governmental organisations (NGO).

I have chosen to link political parties and NGOs together in this discussion because the majority of organisations that can be classified as political parties or NGOs emerge from and operate within the context of the capitalist-state. They either seek to perpetuate it, make change through it, rely upon it, or counter the problems made by it but without directly challenging it. In this way, parties and NGOs are linked, as they are both forms of organisation that seek to create change but do not represent a revolutionary approach. It would therefore be understandable that funds that trickle down from the likes of the UN or World Bank may not reach Gandhian organisations, or other anarchistic organisations; not that these organisations would necessarily want their money.

It is unlikely that revolutionary organisations would be the target of UN and World bank development funding, but on top of this, even if they were, the Gandhians would be right to be wary of engaging with Western development approaches, and in fact, they reject much Western development. Far from being benevolent, development funding from groups like the World Bank has often countered revolutionary aims. Post-developmentalism, a theory stemming largely from critics of development in India and post-structuralist theorists, draws some of its ideas from Gandhi (Peet and Hardwick, 2015, pp. 254–256). It concludes that development can be a method of control and it has led to much violence in the form of “conquering territories, uprooting peoples from place, restructuring spaces, such as creating plantations and urban sprawl or ghettoes” (Escobar, 2004, p. 15; Cowen and Shenton, 1996). This is because development is in the interest of capitalism (Cavanagh and Mander, 2004).

In fact, while conducting village development, it is capitalist and authoritarian development that many Gandhian and other activist groups in India are fighting as they resist plans to build nuclear power plants, for example. In this way, it makes little sense to engage in Western models unless they are critical of and working against the capitalist-state. A similar logic applies to political parties, which operate within a state system, rather than dissolving it. As I will show below, most Gandhians seek to work outside of political parties and NGOs, and those who do work within them often operate within them in nonconventional ways. They seek to find ways of operating outside of capitalist-state logic.

For the vast majority of interview participants, the vehemently anti-political party position expressed in Vinoba’s writings still holds. Dilip stated, for example, “political parties are embodiments of hypocrisy and the decline of speech.” The dominant narrative presented is that political parties create divisions, which is “a shortcoming of the political system”, according to Daniel Mazgaonkar. Daniel states:

They want to divide people. Either by caste, colour, creed, political parties. All of the divisions out there. Already in India there were lots of divisions because of caste, religion, this, that and now politics has added one more. Congress will sit separately. Republicans will sit separately. Democrats will sit separately. Why? They all belong to America or England or India. So India is our main interest. So we are all in the fight together, but I don’t know when this will dawn on people. It looks so simple, but it is so difficult to adopt in one’s attitude (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

The conclusion, again consistent with the position outlined in the previous chapters, is that political parties spend their time vying for power. Gandhians do not want any group vying for power in a nonviolent polity, instead having power spread equally. This is their focus and purpose. Kumar Prashant emphasised this in a conversation about politics in India. He expressed that, as a Gandhian worker, he wants an alternative to the political party set-up:

If you see in a broader sense, everything is politics. You talking to me is politics. So in a broader sense, you can’t escape politics. Politics is engagement with two people, two set of people, two parties, anything. Political parties are different. I can’t talk with very much knowledge about other countries, but as far as India is concerned, I can tell you very strongly that here, political parties have nothing to do with politics. They are power brokers, simple. They use any method to gain power. They don’t have any sense of belonging to the society. But, to some extent or for some period of time, we can’t get rid of political parties because this democratic parliamentary democracy, somehow it has been based on parties. We want to destroy it. As a Gandhi worker, I can tell you, that we want to destroy it from the very root, this political party culture of democracy. But as long as we have tried, we could not do it, we are not able to do it, [so] we have to find ways and means to deal with them. That’s what JP, Jayaprakash Narayan, tried to do in 1970s… So I have nothing against politics. I am totally against the political party setup. I’m trying to destroy it (K. Prashant, personal communication, February 9, 2017) .

This is clearly an anti-party statement, but one that recognises that the parties cannot be simply ignored. There have been various ways of engaging with them throughout the history of Gandhian movements. Most participants, generally, do not vote for the reasons expressed by Kumar, except in special circumstances. Others who do vote do not see voting, in and of its self, as a significant factor in creating change. Three special circumstances noted where a large number of participants did vote was: (1) following JP during the emergency; (2) against damaging environmental issues such as the building of dams; and (3) in actions where major parties were fuelling the fire of communal violence.

While most views on political parties expressed by the interview participants were aligned with those in Gandhi and Vinoba’s writing, JP’s decision to use the political party structure during the emergency came up as a regular point of discussion. All seemed either supportive of JP, or at least understood why he made his decision, given the circumstances. As expressed above, there is recognition amongst the participants of the need for adaptability and compromise in some difficult situations. However, many also offered critical reflections on what took place and the implications for now. Those who did were cynical about the use of political party structures moving forward.

Daniel, despite voting for JP and participating in the resistance, acknowledged faults in the electoral approach of JP as his movement removed Indira Gandhi from power. Daniel raised that there were points he could see for reconsideration in JP’s movement. When asked what these points were, he said that political parties have been counterproductive, despite JP’s best intentions. He said:

Today what is happening, the clique, the ruling clique in any political party, even if they are not ruling the country, will decide who will stand. A few people will stand. JP and Vinoba wanted people to select their own [representatives]. We should know who is the right person. We should know who is an honest person who will not be sold out for any cost. So, that is how JP had pleaded, but then the situation was such that he supported the political party that he created, the Janata party. It won. But then, again, the same thing happened. In two and half years they [the Janata Party] split. There were quarrels. There was no confidence between themselves. JP’s thought was lost. He was trying for real gram Swaraj, rural Swaraj. But that was not to happen (D. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, February 2, 2017).

In Daniel’s (personal communication, February 2, 2017) view, the fault was down to both the nature of political parties and those involved in the parties:

They were only using Jayprakesh as a tool to stand up against Indira Gandhi because she was the supreme authority in Indian and nobody could shake her. It was only Jayprakesh because of his freedom struggle and his total dis-attachment to power. He had become a figure in India next to Gandhi and Vinoba. So, they used JP. Otherwise individually each one would stand no chance at all of throwing Indira Gandhi out of power.

After reflecting on JP’s movement, he concluded that Vinoba’s approach of rejecting political parties was more productive, looking to the future:

Vinoba always said with regard to JP’s movement, If Jayprakesh is talking or doing things for people’s power, he was all for that. But if he is talking of power, ruling, I mean the party, party politics, he is not with him. So Vinoba was not with JP [in the emergency]. I think that Vinoba’s understanding was correct in that.

Despite the amazing feat of overthrowing an authoritarian government, there were some negative consequences. The most concerning consequence of JP’s movement was touched on by Anand. This is that, in uniting all opposition parties and bringing them to power, there has ultimately been a rise of the right. India’s political system now only has two major parties, Congress and the BJP, the BJP rising out of the Janata party coalition formed by JP. Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017) said: “JP gave legitimacy to the fundamentalist right wing. JP was helped by a right wing fundamentalist party and that became a stepping stone to their success later on, 20, 30, 40 years later on.”

I have stated earlier that how much of an option he had in this matter is debateable, as he was forced to respond to an increasingly authoritarian and powerful state or allow it to become more powerful. Debates between Vinoba and JP hinged on ones emphasis on gramdan and the other’s focus on resistance (Ostergaard, 1985). Ostergaard (1985) stated that the movement was getting more militant after the deaths of the leaders and this seems to have remained in the attitudes of the people I spoke to. Many held a deep respect for Vinoba, and many were committed to carry on with his work, but were also actively involved in various forms for resistance. Their experience spoke more to a balance between building a resistance, albeit in a movement that is not as large or facing the challenges it once did, such as it did from Indira Gandhi.

Not all participants opposed political parties. Sandeep holds a central role in the socialist party. Sandeep says that unlike Gandhi and Ambedkar, JP does not have a set of followers, although he was an important mass leader. JP does not occupy the same ideological space, compared to the original thinking of Gandhi and Lohia. So, while JP formed the Janata Party coalition, it was not a party of Gandhian philosophy that took power, despite the Gandhian movement that allowed it to happen. In this way, JP engaged with the political party system, but only to challenge dictatorship, not to take the seat of power. Sandeep, while being a member of a party, still recognises the same basic issues with political parties as the other interview participants who talked about this. He reflects on his thinking in regards to voting and parties:

All the time when I did not used to vote I was thinking that I didn’t want to be part of this system. But now, I am part of a small political party called the Socialist Party. I think that voting and electing good people is very important if you bring about positive change… [but] if you become part of a political party, then you do become biased. You have to defend the actions of your leaders and things like that. So parties, yeah, it’s a big dilemma. They are supposed to be instruments through which democracy is run but they themselves are very anti-democratic. All the parties are run in a very centralised way. If you become used to working in an anti-democratic way or a centralised way, how can we expect you to change when you are in power? You will continue to operate in the same fashion and make the whole government anti-democratic (S. Pandey, personal communication, January 25, 2017).

My reflection from listening to these debates is that they are very similar to the arguments about whether to vote or not, which occur within anarchist and other leftist circles in the West (see Ward, 1987; Goldman, 1969 [1910]; Reclus, 2009 [1913]). It gives up one’s own power, and reinforces the system that anarchists oppose. As Vinoba said, “we need to get rid of institutions which exercise authority in the name of service” (Bhave, 2014a [1942], p. 58). Similarities are not too surprising, as activists in India are dealing with similar political, capitalist-state, structures.

Kumar looks to the events of JP’s movement for ways to overcome the problems produced by political parties. He points out that people power was driving the movement. In his view, it is a politically active populace that helps to overcome issues presented by political parties and the political system:

We have to evolve something, some instrument to influence this political party system, in order to make them realise that they are not the deciding factors. Peoples decide their fate. A kind of people’s power emerged through the 1974 movement. People outside of parties are a political force in this country. JP established it. So gradually, we have to devise this and make it stronger. That manifestation will influence the political setup. And as far as I see it, in the long-term, a day will come when political parties have become redundant. Peoples’ organisations will spring up everywhere and they will form a different kind of political force that runs the society (K. Prashant, personal communication, February 9, 2017).

This statement is reflective of the strategy laid out by Gandhi who held the view that constructive work and satyagraha helped to overcome these issues. While there was not universal agreement within the interviews as to whether there should be a political party or not, there was agreement that you need non-party political processes, such as a constructive programme or constructive organisations, to create and maintain change. Change starts with the actions of people and communities as they start to take control of their own lives, which again links back to the concept of prefigurative politics (see Gordon, 2007; Graeber, 2002). This is the starting point. Yogesh Kamdar (personal communication, February 1, 2017) stated that political parties reflect the people:

Those people do not come from God’s land in a helicopter. They are just the products of this society. If we are crooked, if we are dishonest, if we are paying the lip service to all this, it will get reflected. There will probably be crueller [leaders], but ultimately, it’s a mirror of the society. If we keep on grumbling that all elected representatives are so bad and so dishonest and so and so, that’s a comment on ourselves.

This leads me on to the discussion of NGOs. Interviewees engaged in what could be labelled development work in villages, are faced with the choice of working with or setting up NGO structures, or using other methods. The reflections here come largely from one participant, Anand Mazgaonkar, who does not aim to form or work through NGOs in this work. The NGO model is not one that Gandhi was dealing with during his lifetime, but it is a reality that activists have to grapple with in the modern day. Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017) sees the logic of NGOs as inconsistent with the aims he is working for:

I’m not a big fan of NGOs, you know. That’s, that’s one of the modes a lot of people operate through. That’s one way we can and do sometimes operate in but we see organisations as being very limited in their utility in many ways, you know. So, in our journey from micro to macro, one of the things I learned was, this is my position, my stance and I say, no. Organisations are not the vehicle, cannot be, and will not be the vehicle of change.

I asked him to expand on this and he continued, explaining that to work within the NGO model is to engage in a system and way of organising that they are trying to reject and move beyond:

Getting funds and employing people to do something. That’s organisation building, if you like. It’s not organic and that’s the set way to operate for most people. A formal organisation has to have a defined programme, physical targets, quantifiable targets, funding, reporting and that’s a circle, a vicious circle, if you like. It’s self-perpetuating. So [in an NGO] I would probably say the best things for purposes of funding, so that’s what my evaluation report would be like. There are integrity issues there. At my level, if I write something for funders, it cannot be critical. At the level of the funders, the grasp of the funder is a different ballgame. It’s to do with physical targets. It’s to do with showing a success story. That’s the kind of thing they’re interested in and I believe social change, political change is a process. It’s not a product. So, organisations can deal with physical targets through employees doing 11 to five jobs, but it’s not empowering in the same way. That’s the point, you know. So, I’m saying that organisations as a vehicle of change do not hold much promise for me. The way [forward] will have to be through voluntary effort.

A radical Western model of action, which Anand’s method of political organising could be compared to, is the idea of anarchist affinity groups. They are similar in that they aim to make interventions, to empower, and to show by example – not to lead people like a vanguard party. The aim is to get the community to act, as expressed by Daniel’s comments above, rather than to defer to outside organisations to solve problems.

From Anand’s comments, the non-NGO approach allows for maximum amount of time to be concentrated on the task at hand, rather than in things that do not need to be done. Here, it may be useful to refer to Graeber’s (2013) concept of “Bullshit Jobs”. Bullshit jobs are jobs that do not need to be done; that the people doing them know do not need to be performed. This is not to say the work, aims, or commitment of many NGOs is “bullshit”, not at all. Of course, many NGOs do very admirable work and have admirable aims. However, what Anand’s method does is to remove the aspects of NGO work that absorbs time and buys into hierarchical mechanisms where you must rely on and appeal to authorities above you – either for intervention or funding. In this way, the rejection of NGOs is a revolutionary approach.

Having said this, it is also important to be adaptable and, at times, to be able to make compromises. Anand (personal communication, January 24, 2017) says:

I must hasten to add that in the short run, we might have to make compromises, so I mean we, we are forced and we accept acting through NGOs, through organisations, but we are constantly trying to push the limits. We are constantly examining ourselves. So, I am not totally ruling it out. We aren’t living in a Utopia yet, so an organisation is something we will probably use for the foreseeable future. But we just have to be aware, conscious of the fact that organisations have their own limitations.

As you would expect, the Gandhian NGOs that other interviewee participants are involved in tried to operate with Gandhian principles, not through the Western model. A quote that I have already used in the last chapter demonstrates this. Rajiv Vora described an encounter with a Maoist leader through his organisation, Swaraj Peeth. Rajiv (personal communication, January 20, 2017) said that the Maoist leader said: “You don’t want to give us projects like other NGOs do, but we are working on our spirits and our mind.” Swaraj Peeth’s work, as with that of the Metta Center, and others I have mentioned that are connected to the participant’s work, are about empowerment and helping people to empower themselves. They are not exerting power over others. Similar observations could be made of other organisations that the interview participants are involved in, run or have founded. Most of their work is funded through small donations, and for many organisations, such as the Gandhi Peace Institute, they do not take government money. The organisations organise in ways consistent with their nonviolent principles.

Uplift Today: Women and Dalits in the Gandhian Struggle

In the final section of this chapter, I will return to the question of uplift. In Chapter Six, I addressed this is some detail because while the Sarvodaya movement puts uplift at the centre of its programme, the most significant challenges to Gandhi were in the way he dealt with the uplift of Dalits, and on his behaviour in regards to his vow of Brahmacharya. When discussing this topic above, I tried to strike a balance between acknowledging the seriousness of the concerns and the legitimacy of some of the arguments levelled against Gandhi, while also expressing Gandhi’s viewpoint and acknowledging his successes. I discussed it while pointing to: the successes of the movement in terms of uplift of peoples, the differing yet genuine views on how to make change that were pursued by Gandhi and Ambedkar during the independence movement, and the division between Gandhi, the man, and the Gandhian movement.

It was very evident from this research that all the interview participants took the issue of uplift of women and Dalits seriously. All participants discussed the topic without any prompting or questioning from myself. Many discussed it as a central point of our conversation. They held corresponding views to Stephanie Van Hook and Dr. Usha Thakkar, whom I quoted in Chapter Six, namely, that Gandhi needs to be viewed in his time, that his views changed over time, and that he contributed to the empowerment of women. It is easy to conclude from this that the uplift of women, Dalits, and other minorities, is a central issue for followers of Gandhi today, and for Gandhian institutions. It is a concern that is taken into account in their everyday activism. As quoted above, Anand suggested that being adaptable was important in many areas of activism; however, there are exceptions when it comes to certain issues of principle. Anand told me that during their village work, it is a non-negotiable position that Dalits can enter their house and share with them, even though this stance does not always lead to large-scale change. Reflecting on this, he said:

I think we challenged some people and maybe we would’ve managed to change a few individuals in a village of, let’s say 1600 to 2000. Maybe we would have influenced 10 people. No more. So I mean that’s how things work. As an organisation, if this became one of my defined programmes for change, to say that in my 10 years of work there, we could influence 10 people, can you imagine a funding agency funding that? Insignificant, right. But to keep the programme going, to keep my employment, I probably have to say something different (A. Mazgaonkar, personal communication, January 24, 2017).

There were many examples where participants demonstrated a high awareness of Dalit and women’s rights. Rajiv, for example, refers to untouchability as a disease, and this is the common language that was used. It is also the language that was used by Gandhi. He says:

For Gandhi nonviolence is a means to reawaken and reactivate Swaraj awareness and to rebuild India on the pattern of its civilisation.. when you go into slumber, your intellect starts decaying, so society decays. So untouchability — these parts that Indian society contracted from within, not from without. So some diseases are formed within and some diseases from without (R. Vora, personal communication, January 20, 2017).

There is little more to say on this issue other than that the positions of participants in the interviews were for the welfare and uplift of all. I cannot comment on the specific functioning of Gandhian institutions, and I think it would be naïve to assume that all elements of patriarchy have been removed within them all, as it would be with other Western leftist groups as well. They exist, as Western leftist groups do, in a global patriarchal system. As a result, a disproportionate number of institutions appear to still be run by men, although I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence for this. The only recent statistics I have comes from Narayanasamy’s (2003) survey. Only 12% of the survey respondents, from the returned surveys of 250 sarvodaya workers in over 36 Gandhian institutions in Tamil Nadu, were women.

All that I can conclude from my research is that there is an acknowledgment and awareness of patriarchy within the people I talked to, and many participants were taking active steps to challenge it. Many of the participant’s actions involve large numbers of men and women. Sandeep’s peace marches, for example, had high profile involvement from women, including prominent activists such as Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. Many of the men that I talked to emphasised the work of women in the groups they were involved in and were quick to point out that they were a team, although, for a variety of reasons it was men I was talking to. As I stated previously, there were a number of reasons why I talked to less women than men in this research and I am confident that if I returned to India now, I would have contacts to include many more women’s voices.

It is probably fair to say that, influenced by feminism and Dalit movements, the critique of members of the Gandhian movement today appears more sophisticated that Gandhi’s was. This should not be surprising. It is now a long time since the Gandhians were challenging the British Raj, and views on these issues within society have changed dramatically over this time. This shift appears to be speeding up in recent times, as there appeared to be an increased awareness of patriarchy and misogyny, inside and outside of India. Horrific accounts of rape and rape culture in India have grabbed global headlines in recent years, as globally there is also an amplified discussion that is forcing its way into the mainstream. This was recently demonstrated by the 2017 #MeToo movement. Interviewees showed a deep awareness of these issues. Despite the majority of the interview participants in this research being men, some of the largest and most powerful Gandhian movements today are women’s movements, as exemplified by Dr. Usha Thakkar’s comments in Chapter Six.


In regards to the ins and outs of Gandhian political organisation in the modern day, we could either say little has changed or that lots has changed since Gandhi, depending on how we view Gandhi. Gandhi can be viewed as a compass or a map: a compass to guide the way forward, or a map of exactly, precisely, what path to take. From these interviews, it is clear that Gandhi acts as a compass. His method and approach still show the way — as interviewee participants have said, the way of love. However, the modern terrain provides different challenges as one walks over them. Nevertheless, while the terrain has changed, the solution, according to the people I have spoken to, does not simply rest in applying Gandhi to new situations. They see the need for a movement back towards a more simple life and with it a more sustainable and healthy way of being. This is not just an individual task. It has to also be a communal one, as Gandhians primary aim is to set up institutions, ashrams, and villages that operate nonviolently. As Rajiv’s comments pointed out, some ideologies do not mix. This is a drastically different view on the application of traditional Indian knowledges to those sitting at the top of the Indian state hierarchy today, as the likes of Prime Minister Modi pursues right-wing capitalist politics while advocating yoga, for example (Al Jazeera, 2015).

In the next chapter, I will provide a conclusion to the thesis. I will offer some final thoughts on the Gandhian expression of anarcho (small “a”) pacifism. Based on the theory developed in the first half of this thesis, and the example of the Gandhian movement, I will highlight potential points of engagement for peace and conflict studies as it pursues a peace that is free of direct and structural violence. I will finish by discussing anarcho-pacifism more broadly, and some potential points of connection that it has with areas of peace and conflict studies.

PART THREE: Conclusions

Chapter Nine: Conclusions

In this last chapter, I will offer some thoughts about how the content of this research speaks to the creation of what I have previously called a eudaimonious peace. First, I will offer some reflections on the Gandhian experience and what it brings to both anarchism and peace and conflict studies. Because the second half of this thesis was an exploration of the politics and philosophy of an anarchistic movement, the conclusions in this section speak more directly to anarchism and anarchist movements than peace studies. The sarvodaya movement is an example of how anarcho-pacifism can be practised, and therefore speaks directly to anarchist practice. Second, I will discuss anarcho-pacifism more broadly, highlighting some of the challenges that it presents for peace studies and anarchism. This section speaks more to peace studies than anarchism. This is because the argument that the rejection of the capitalist-state is the basis for a nonviolent politics, if accepted, would require a major rethinking of much peace and conflict studies theory. In doing this, I will also highlight some areas of commonality between anarcho-pacifism and some areas of peace and conflict studies theory, which can be built on.

Lessons from the Sarvodaya Movement

There are multiple parts of the Gandhian approach that speak to anarchism and peace studies. Positive elements – the things that the Gandhian movement succeeded in — have the potential to make the pursuit of peace more successful. Other negative elements – the things that Gandhian movement failed at – still provide valuable insights for similar movements in the future. I will summarise what I see as the most pertinent elements coming out of the research under three topics. The first is that the sarvodaya movement demonstrates a three-pronged approach to revolutionary social change which puts an emphasis on both individual and structural action. The second is the sarvodaya movement’s emphasis on experimentation, which I will suggest assists the creation of a new ways of being. However, the sarvodaya movement sometimes failed to institutionalise positive outcomes of its experiments, which is a point that should also be learnt from. The third, the leadership of the movement, contains both positive and negative elements in the sarvodaya leaders’ actions. The leaders were vital for the movement’s growth and success, but they also made mistakes in their organising and not all of their decisions were perfect.

A Three-Pronged Approach to Change

Both peace and conflict studies and anarchism aim to create change that takes us from a violent to a nonviolent world. However, within both, a tension exists between methods of change based on the individual or the structural levels. The division exists within nonviolence and pacifism, between individual assertions of pacifism and collective nonviolent resistance. In anarchism, the divide is between social, collective, mass movement anarchism, and lifestyle, individualistic, small scope anarchism, as mentioned previously.

Gandhi, and by extension the Gandhian movement as a whole, speak to this division in another way, offering a different conceptualisation of the nature of, and relationship between, individual and structural change. Gandhian theory sees no true division between the two, and as a result, tries to emphasise and work on both at the same time. As their actions show, Gandhians see that individual and structural change are co-constitutive. My conclusion is that the sarvodaya movement has dedicated effort to both sides with positive effect.

However, justifying this conclusion necessitates some further discussion about the differences between the Gandhian and Western Anarchist perspectives about what it means to be free — that is, if the argument for an approach that focuses on the structural and the individual is to be accepted by social anarchism.

Within anarchism, the divide between individual and structural approaches is seen in the divide between lifestylism and collectivism. Tensions between the two approaches were heightened after the publication of Murray Bookchin’s (1995) famous essay, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. In the essay, Bookchin rejects lifstylism/individualism and the self-centred egoism it produces:

The individual ego becomes the supreme temple of reality, excluding history and becoming, democracy and responsibility. Indeed, lived contact with society as such is rendered tenuous by a narcissism so all-embracing that it shrivels consociation to an infantilized ego that is little more than a bundle of shrieking demands and claims for its own satisfactions. Civilization merely obstructs the ecstatic self-realization of this ego’s desires, reified as the ultimate fulfilment of emancipation, as though ecstasy and desire were not products of cultivation and historical development, but merely innate impulses that appear ab novo in a desocialized world.

Individualism, as Bookchin sees it, undermines and is opposed to efforts to create social freedom. In the last section of the essay, he expresses a particularly important point for this discussion:

If a social anarchist movement cannot translate its fourfold tenets — municipal confederalism, opposition to statism, direct democracy, and ultimately libertarian communism — into a lived practice in a new public sphere; if these tenets… are subverted by the ‘libertarian’ Ecstasy Industry and by quietistic Asian theisms, then its revolutionary socialistic core will have to be restored under a new name.

A unique part of the Gandhian approach is that by focusing on social revolution (the macro), while also focusing on the transformation of the village and the self (the micro), it shows a way of working on both collective change and individual change in a revolutionary way. Gandhianism is by no means “quietisitic”, and strives wholeheartedly for social freedom, as Bookchin desires. In this way, Gandhi rejects much of what Bookchin rejects in lifestylism. However, rather than rejecting individual change and action as a result of this, Gandhi embraces elements of lifestylism and pulls them into a revolutionary agenda. While all the Sarvodaya leaders create revolutionary institutions and engage in nonviolent resistance, they also revolutionise daily life. They do this by making daily actions – the practical actions that are needed in the village and the home – revolutionary. For example, growing food in the ashram has multiple roles. It helps the grower live a healthy life by being physical active and eating well. It also helps decentralise knowledge, production and power. It rejects capitalist production and the use of money, as the grower grows food as a communal duty and gives it to the community freely. It also helps feed those engaging in nonviolent resistance, those training for resistance and those who are supported by the ashram due to the consequences of resistance, such as the children of those who are in prison. These individual actions support the revolutionary organisations and institutions in which the individual grower also participates. At the same time, the creation of new structures – be it on a community level such as an ashram, or a national level through the creation of national institutions or the overthrow of the British – helps to change the way individuals and groups within macro structures then live and act.

Gandhi, by connecting the micro and macro in one revolutionary plan, revolutionises the self, the community, the nation and the world. Unlike other approaches, this approach also makes participation in the movement accessible to people of all abilities. Wide participation is important because a change in society requires a change in the people within society. As Gustav Landauer (2010 [1910], p. 204) stated, as I have mentioned previously, “The state is a social relationship… It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently.” A glance at the successful historical political revolutions shows us that new post-revolution orders maintain hierachy. To truly break down hierarchy, people need to learn to live without hierarchy in their daily lives as much as the current systems of power need to be removed. One or the other approach appears to be insufficient on its own.

However, the Gandhian approach – and this is where cultural differences are important to understand – has a conception of individual change, which is often not conceived of, or is misunderstood, when observed with Western eyes. Drawing on various systems of Indian thought, a large proportion of Gandhi’s discussions of individual change focuses on changing the self (internal). This is an additional category of change that involves a radical exploration of self and therefore a changing of the self. When work on the self is considered, we have a three-pronged approach for creating peace: individual (self), individual (other) and structural.

To understand this position fully we have to compare Gandhi’s aim of swaraj to Bookchin’s notion of social freedom.[97] To recap, swaraj, often translated as freedom, means self-rule, be it the self-rule of India, the self-rule of the village, or the self-rule of the individual. The individual element of swaraj which refers to moksha/nirvana is not so much focused on social revolution or social freedom in the Western sense, but aims for the end of suffering, of which the mind/self plays a major role. As Mukherjee (2010) states:

The Gandhian movement of nonviolent resistance against British colonialism had its own discourse of freedom, grounded in a different tradition of thought and practice. It was anchored not in the Western notion of freedom, but rather in the Indic—Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain—discourses of renunciative freedom (moksha and nirvana in Sanskrit) and their respective ascetic practices.

We can assume that Bookchin has this approach in mind when he dismisses what he calls “quietist Asian theisms”, as quoted above. While Bookchin may be correct when he levels this claim against Western Individualism (anarchist or otherwise), this assertion does not hold when levelled against multiple Indian traditions that embrace individual change. I do not want to assume that Bookchin necessarily has Gandhi in mind as he writes, but his statement is a refection of a broader dismissal of individualist Indian thought that is found in multiple Leftist ideologies. For example, Bookchin’s dismissal is similar to Žižek’s (2003, p. 26; 2006, pp. 252–254) dismissal of what he calls “Western Buddhism”, where he states that followers of this tradition are simply ignoring actual violence that is happening in the world as a result of capitalism, by selfishly focusing on their own lives and concerns. In this way, Žižek labels Buddhism as a capitalist ideology. This charge needs to be addressed here if the individualistic side of Gandhian practice is to be seen as valuable in a three-pronged individual and structural approach to revolutionary change.

While Žižek and Bookchin’s rejections are not levelled against Gandhi specifically, they are against the idea of changing the self as a revolutionary act. There is a misconception by the likes of Bookchin and Žižek that work on the self is by necessity selfish – that it requires removing oneself from the world to, for example, meditate, and not be affected by violence. In the Gandhian tradition or in other schools of Hindu thought that Gandhi and Vinoba especially draw upon — Hindu, Buddhist or Jain, such work on the self is done with the motivation of, and a commitment to, benefiting others (Mukherjee, 2010). In short, the point of engaging in these individual practices (working on making ourselves more nonviolent in our actions, thought, speech) is to increase the individual’s ability to act upon the world, which is the opposite of the selfishness and egoism that Bookchin rejects. Mukherjee (2010) describes this position as a bridge between Western notions of external freedom (social freedom), and Indian, what we could call self-freedom, or moksha. She references Vivekananda who defines renunciation (part of the process of this work on the self) as an unselfish act or process. Talking about the role of a Samyasin (somebody who has renounced the world), a concept used by Gandhi who was also an admirer of Vivekananda (cited in Mukherjee, 2010), Vivekananda states:

The ordinary Samnyasin gives up the world, goes out and thinks of God. The real Samnyasin lives in the world, but is not of it. Those who deny themselves, live in the forest and chew the cud of unsatisfied desires are not true renouncers. Live in the midst of the battle of life … Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the centre. The true Samnyasins forgo even their own liberation and live simply for doing good to the world … The Samnyasin is born into the world to lay down his life for others, to stop the bitter cries of men, to wipe the tears of the widow, to bring peace to the soul of the bereaved mother, to equip the ignorant masses for the struggle for existence … and to arouse the sleeping lion of Brahman in all by throwing in the light of knowledge.

However, while Mukherjee presents this idea as a bridge between Indian and Western conceptions of freedom, similar ideas can be found further back than Vivekananda, who lived between 1863 and 1902, which demonstrates they are more deeply rooted in the Indian traditions that Gandhi draws upon. The bodhisattva ideal, coming out of the teaching of the Buddha, presents an identical vision to Vivekananda’s description of the real Samnyasin, one that Vinoba mentions as his model of action (Bhave, 1994 [1986], p. 19). He even built his ashram in Bihar next to the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The key addition that Gandhi added to the ancient practice of nonviolence based on changing the self, was that he was the first to combine this Samnyasin/Bodhisattva motivation with mass nonviolence, bottom-up politics on a large scale.

The three-pronged approach to change does not demand a high bar for participation. You do not have to have fully renounced the material world (become a Samnyasin/Bodhisattva) to engage in macro, micro or internal efforts to create nonviolence. Nor does anyone need to convert to Gandhi’s belief system. The techniques Gandhians have engaged in to improve themselves are not based on a religious belief that others need to convert to in order to practice.

They are psychological. As the fields of psychology and neuroscience can attest, people can change themselves. There is also an increasing body of scientific knowledge to support the notion that people can do this using techniques based in Indian thought, within psychology and neuroscience (see Wallace, 2014b; Goleman and Davidson, 2017). Accepting this, it stands to reason that if we can train ourselves to become more compassionate, more disciplined and more nonviolent, then we can then engage in nonviolent resistance more effectively.

Compassion and a concern for others rather than ourselves can give us motivation and energy to act against violence. Training our mind can increase our confidence, and help us control our emotions, which helps us maintain discipline. It can also help us fully reject capitalism, obedience and hierarchy – rejecting our attachment to the things that capitalism promotes and values.

Discipline has long been considered important for successful nonviolent campaigns (Sharp, 2011). There is a long tradition of training oneself to be disciplined within nonviolence, which includes the training conducted within the civil rights movement. This trained people in how to react when confronted with the violence of racists. In these trainings, activists would run through every possible scenario to train themselves to deal with violence so that they could control their automatic flight or flight responses when faced with real-life violent situations. Training of the mind within the Indian tradition should be seen like this, not as a theism.[98] When one becomes consistent, disciplined, and clear on their aims through this self-work, the theory is that they are in a much better position to influence others and to effectively engage in nonviolent action. They have, as Vinoba (Bhave, 1994 [1986]) claimed, a larger capacity to love. The effects of this approach are difficult to measure, but it should be recognised that it is not only macro politics that create change, and that the ripple created from individual actions, which by themselves are not going to cause the overthrow of a government for example, can nevertheless inspire and motivate people and mass action, even long into the future, in sometimes quite intangible ways.

In summary, many different methods from different Global traditions could be used to work on all three levels, but however this is done, Gandhi simply encourages the practice of nonviolence to embrace all three and to make sure none of them are neglected, allowing everyone to be involved and for each level of action to assist the other. Gandhi’s approach helped achieve multiple successes in the movement. It led to the removal of the British Raj and Indira Gandhi, but also built bhoodan and gramdan. It appears to have been empowering for individuals, as it gave them conviction and trust in the movement. Their personal commitments appear to have helped them as individuals to continue to engage in nonviolence throughout their lifetime. Therefore, the Gandhian movement supports the Western Anarchist push for social freedom, but its example suggests that other methods of change can be successfully incorporated into the revolutionary method. As one of the largest and most successful anti-state movements, it certainly should not be dismissed as a “quietist Asian theism”.


In regards to the implementation of sarvodaya as an alternative to the capitalist-state, Martin’s (2001, p. 84) critique here is probably correct, from a Western perspective. He writes:

Several of sarvodaya’s strengths are also its weaknesses. Because it is such a contrast to capitalism, it seems totally impractical in an industrial or post-industrial society. The method of local development is fine, but in itself contains no strategy for challenging the foundations of capitalism, namely the synergy of state power and corporate bureaucracy, including the influence of consumer goods, advertising and wage labour.

It seems unlikely that people in Western countries, who on the whole are so separate from the land and their production, and under the “influence of consumer goods, advertising and wage labour”, would accept a plan for the village society of Gandhi’s dreams. Some of the interview participants shared similar sentiments. However, if we view the Gandhian approach as a compass rather than a map, Gandhi and the sarvodaya movement’s successes can act as a helpful guide, offering a theory with deep means/ends consistency and corresponding successes. Gandhi himself, along with the interview participants who participated in this research, did not say that others should adopt this village plan as it was written in his lifetime. It is up to people to experiment in their own situations and find solutions to their own local problems, decentralising power as much as possible. This is what Gandhi and Vinoba were doing within the time, context and space they were living in and, as a result, came up with the most detailed and widely enacted plan on living out anarcho-pacifist principles that has existed.

The Gandhian emphasis on experimentation is important and relatively unique. However, Western anarchism has increasingly come to similar conclusions over time (Chomsky, 2013, p. 27). The Gandhian method says that planning a whole new global society is not possible, and instead creates guidelines and loose plans which people and communities can then use to guide themselves in their learning of how to enact peace. This allows for creativity and culturally specific solutions to problems. As said previously, the approach is in line with the concept of pre-figurative politics (Yates, 2015: Gordon, 2007; Graeber, 2002). Graeber (2012), in his accounts of the Occupy Wall Street movement, speaks about how people needed to learn to be democratic within the movement and experiment in how to do this. Graeber acknowledges that some societies (such as the USA) need to learn democracy more than others. Gandhi is advocating the same thing, and is aware that different places will need different solutions, hence why his village plan is only intended for India. In this way, I believe that Gandhi would have looked upon Occupy Wall Street favourably, as a US specific attempt to learn how to be different. He wants people to search for truth themselves.

Through his emphasis on experimentation in resistance and community building, Gandhi is clearly enacting and advocating for a politics of action rather than demand. However, his politics of action is nonviolent and therefore is a politics of building rather than destruction. Physical violence, as discussed, is purely about inflicting harm, injury, pain and/or death. In this way, the Gandhian option offers a radically different path to that of antifa or the Black Bloc. While Gandhi would possibly admire the drive to create change in people who are part of Black Blocs and antifa groups, he would not see their action as productive. It is clear that, unlike the Gandhians, neither Black Blocs nor antifa groups have created the kind of mass experimentation in a new way of being that the Gandhians have.

This emphasis on experimentation made the sarvodaya movement remarkably reflective and adaptable. Rather than falling apart after Gandhi’s death and India’s independence from Britain, the movement moved into its next phase as Vinoba led the bhoodan movement, and then the gramdan movement. It then moved into a phase of more active resistance, which we could call the total revolution phase, under Jayaprakash Narayan. Vinoba learnt from the previous experiments. He saw that the building of the new society was hindered during the Independence movement, and launched his experiments accordingly. JP saw that nonviolent resistance had been neglected, and the increasing need for it as the new Indian state became more authoritarian, and launched his experiments accordingly. This ability to adapt and change is seen in these leaders’ personal lives as well. It is what makes them so human and therefore makes their feats achievable, even if many people remember them as saints today. Not only do they show that it is ok to change, they advocate for change based on what is learned through experimentation.

However, there is a critical lesson here in the sarvodaya movement’s failure to institutionalise the successes from its experiments. After Gandhi, institutionalisation of the positive outcomes from various Gandhian experiments does not have appeared to happen, which appears to be a major factor in its decline. To link back to the previous section, the movement was extremely successful at inspiring individual change and conversion to its cause, but it was less successful at sustaining structural change. It successfully removed rulers, but did not create the society it sought. While it seems like members of the movement had learned from this, the movement still went into decline.

A Unique Form of Leadership

It is quite clear that the Gandhian movement had three exceptional leaders that were integrally linked to its successes, and since they died, the movement has not had a comparable impact or ability to draw people to it. Gandhi inspired millions to resist the British, Vinoba inspired people to drop their lives and join the bhoodan movement and give land, and JP inspired people to rise up against Indira Gandhi. I do not wish to claim that there is a causal relationship between the leaders and the movement’s successes, but they do appear to be a very significant factor in the movement’s success.

As discussed, the role and importance of leadership is a contentious topic within anarchism and in the Gandhian movement. As the interviews were quick to point out, action is not dependent on leaders. Anarchism and Gandhian thought aim for self-empowerment and the removal of hierarchy and violent authority, which are things normally associated with leaders.[99] Aspects of Gandhian leadership mitigate the risk of this, as leaders act like teachers: they were humble, they rejected formal positions of power, and they do not hold a permanent and unmovable position. This is incredibly rare. As Xaxa and Mahakul (2009) express about the situation in India today, “The current scenario is precarious; seldom we found a politician selflessly committed to the societal cause, rather not free of corruption attached to him”. However, even though potential violences that arise from leadership are mitigated in the Gandhian example, leadership still remains central to the movement’s progression.

Gandhi, Vinoba and JP all acted like sparks, triggering movement when opportunities appeared. In this way, they were masters at exploiting opportunity structures: Gandhi, in his opposition to the British; Vinoba, in the launch of bhoodan and gramdan at a time when the state could not or would not heavily crack-down on it; and JP, in harnessing the anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment and bringing groups together to overthrow her. Looking at this begs the question as to whether or not revolutionary movements need exceptional leaders to exploit opportunity structures when they present themselves in order to be successful. Is this a necessary condition for the creation of successful peace and/or the success of revolutionary movements? Looking only at the Gandhian experience, this is a difficult hypothesis to reject.

If true, this hypothesis is a point of both hope and pessimism. Hope, because it is unclear when leaders like this will arise, and when they do they seem to have a quick impact on society, as we can see with the sarvodaya leaders. Pessimism, because a movement cannot simply build these leaders, and if they do not arise, there are then questions of how successful a movement can be. Having said this, the leaders did not arise out of nowhere. Gandhi’s action in India, and his proclamation to work for an anarchistic society — as expressed in his book, Hind Swaraj — is rooted in his conversations, reading, and engagement with Indian thought, and in his experience of experimenting with nonviolence in South Africa. Vinoba’s action is rooted in years of studying and working in Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram. JP’s is rooted in his engagement with Gandhi’s thought, his Marxist background, and years participating in Vinoba’s movement. As a result, they had huge moral and experiential authority. Their actions and ability do have a cause, but it is questionable if others can construct this.

While I suggest that these leaders may have had unique abilities that meant they could exploit opportunity structures, they by themselves are not the movement. Without the active work of the movement as a whole, there would not be anything to mobilise when opportunities arise. The continued existence of the Gandhian movement, while it is smaller than it was and no doubt faces challenges moving forward, means that there is a wealth of experience, knowledge and infrastructure available when the next opportunity arises, or the next leader arises.

How Anarcho-Pacifism Challenges Anarchism and Peace and Conflict Studies

Out of all movements that could be called anarcho-pacifist, Gandhi gives the most comprehensive plan for how to adopt anarcho-pacifism as a way of being, and along with this, the longest, most sustained, attempt at experimenting in ways to implement anarcho-pacifism from the micro to the macro level. The movement offers a radical reimagining of the future. It is an experiment, not a model, and I hope that with future research more can be learned about the operationalization of Gandhian village structures and constructive organisations, and how they have succeeded and failed. Their decades of successes, failures and ideas undoubtedly have more to offer in order to answer the question of how to live nonviolently, without the capitalist-state. This would only add support to the view that Gandhian theory is not naively utopian or unrealistic, but is instead, as Mantena (2012b, p. 455) writes, “a transformational realism that need not begin and end in conservatism, moral equivocation, or pure instrumentalism”. By extension, anarcho-pacifism as a whole can also offer a “transformational realism”, with more anarcho-pacifist case studies to be explored.

In the following comments, I will move from what can be learned from the sarvodaya movement to speak about anarcho-pacifism more broadly. To finish the thesis, I will discuss some implications of anarcho-pacifist theory on the creation of peace. Here, I return to the discussion of anarcho-pacifism as presented in the first half of the thesis, of which the Gandhian movement is just one part.

Anarcho-pacifist theory offers a theory of politics that rejects direct and structural violence, and advocates supporting people in their uplift rather than imposing ideologies upon them. In doing so, it presents many problems for contemporary peace and conflict studies. As I have mentioned, discussions of structural violence within peace and conflict studies have largely disappeared (Gleditsch et. al., 2014). Anarcho-pacifism not only suggests that peace studies needs to take structural violence more seriously if we are to create peace, but it also suggests that a massive amount of the structural violence that is experienced in the world is a result of the capitalist-state.

This is a deep challenge to the field because so much peace and conflict research either promotes or reinforces the capitalist-state. For example, peacebuilding has been largely focused on state-building, or has at least has not challenged it. Security sector reform is in essence an attempt to build and strength militaries, as is traditional peacekeeping (Jackson, 2017a). Anarcho-pacifist theory shows that this is, at best, replacing one form of violence with another. At worst, it is legitimising violence, creating more violence and perpetuating systems of violence into the future. The main demands of anarcho-pacifist theory for peace studies are that: (1) it must search for solutions that decentralise power away from the capitalist–state, and explore new ways of being; (2) it must search of nonviolent alternatives to the military. It needs to argue against proposals for peace and aid and development funding which reinforces neo-liberal capitalism — such as funding from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund does (George, 2001). It needs to challenge the weapons industry, rather than advocating for it. It needs to challenge the concept of the military and police, and look for nonviolent alternatives. Fortunately, many alternatives are still in their infancy because they are both under researched and underfunded. These include things like Civilian-Based Peacekeeping and Civilian Based Defence (see Sharp, 1990; Bartkowski, 2015; Julian and Schweitzer, 2015; Furnari, et. al., 2015; Schweitzer, 2010). Anarcho-pacifist movements, such as the sarvodaya movement, should be looked to in order to find more alternatives.

However, while peace and conflict studies does not currently embrace anarcho-pacifism as a whole, there are three concepts that are discussed and explored in the field that are touching upon, or have the potential to touch upon, anarcho-pacifist theory. These are revolutionary nonviolence, agonism and emancipation. I briefly mentioned the latter two at the end of Chapter One, and I will briefly mention them again here as a way of finishing. Revolutionary nonviolence, on the other hand, has been pervasive throughout this research.

The study of pacifism and revolutionary nonviolence is experiencing resurgence, with multiple works being published in the last few years, and more on the way (Jackson, 2017a, 2017b; Howes, 2016; Holmes, 2016), along with multiple conferences organised in order to discuss the topic. This work moves beyond the status quo, promoting pacifism as a legitimate and effective way of engaging in politics. It starts to go beyond state orientated approaches to peace (Jackson, 2017a; Howes, 2016; Llewellyn, 2017), and seeks to discuss freedom as an extension of nonviolence rather than violence (Howes, 2016; Llewellyn, 2017).

This approach speaks directly to the aims and methods of anarcho-pacifism, as outlined in Chapters One through to Three.

The second topic that relates directly to anarcho-pacifism is agonism (Shinko, 2008; Nagle, 2014; Aggestam, Cristiano and Strömbom, 2015). Agonism, in the context of peace, sees conflict as inevitable, but seeks to channel violent contestation into peaceful and democratic contestation (Nagle, 2014). It is a form of peacebuilding that accepts difference (Aggestam et. al. 2015). These aims are consistent with anarcho-pacifism, especially when anarchism is viewed in its small a form, because this does not exert a particular way of being on others like the state has done and continues to do. The vision of anarcho-pacifism is for a world where many groups are able to determine their own futures, without power being held over them, and without them exerting power or violent authority over others. Conflict can and will happen, but without violence. This is similar to Gandhi’s vision of many circles of villages, and as I have said previously, is seen in his way of engaging with others, especially in his hunger-strikes. From this perspective, anarcho-pacifism and agonism seem like natural fits, with agonism being the way that conflict would have to be dealt with in anarcho-pacifist society, as it offers a non-hierarchical and nonviolent alternative.

The final connection is found in discussions of emancipatory peace (Richmond, 2010; Visoka and Richmond, 2017). As discussed in Chapter One, Booth (1991) defines emancipation as “the freeing of people … from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do.”

Discussions about emancipatory peace take this seriously, but are yet to arrive at the conclusion that the violence of the state prevents emancipation, despite being critical of it (Jackson, 2017a). There is space here for an engagement with anarchism, and anarcho-pacifism, which, as I have argued in the first half of this thesis, is the natural conclusion once it is established that the state, along with capitalism, is inherently violent (Llewellyn, 2017).

Contributions of this Research and Future Research

The main theoretical contribution of the thesis is to build upon the theoretical links between anarchism and pacifism. While people and groups have held anarcho-pacifist views, as far as I am aware, its theory until now has not been explored outside of a few examinations of specific people and social movements.

In building this theory, this research has led to a second contribution, which is to point to the violence of the capitalist-state. This violence is largely ignored within peace and conflict studies. This research is also the first attempt at discussing anarcho-pacifism as a theory of peace within peace and conflict studies, and as something that can be lived and implemented. The findings are far from conclusive, but hopefully this work offers a preliminary contribution that can be built upon in the future in order to understand how a post-capitalist and post-state world can be constructed and function in a way that does not contribute to more violence, but also works to remove violence in all of its forms.

The other contributions of this work are in regard to Gandhi. Gandhi’s anarchistic theory is explored in detail, as well as his similarities and differences with Western anarchism, which has its roots in Europe. Through the writings of Gandhi and Vinoba, I have also given an outline to the sarvodaya plan for a nonviolent anarchistic society, which despite being a key part of Gandhian theory, is rarely discussed. In exploring Gandhi and the sarvodaya movement, the views and reflections of contemporary followers of Gandhi has been shared, via in-depth interviews conducted in India and the United States. Based on the exploration of Gandhi and Vinoba’s writings and the words of contemporary Gandhians, this research has also been an attempt to desubjugate Gandhi’s anti-state theory and practice, and highlight the thought and achievement of his successors, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. Vinoba and JP are rarely acknowledged in nonviolence, anarchist and peace and conflict studies literature.

In regards to future research, while the Gandhians offer the largest example of what can be called anarcho-pacifism, what they produced is still in embryotic form. More can be learned from them and from other anarcho-pacifist movements about their vision and experiences within different contexts, at different times. I set out at the beginning of this research to make an argument for anarcho-pacifism and started to explore its practical application. While I did not start with the intention of exploring Gandhi to do this, it became the obvious choice as the research progressed. However, much more work can be done to widen the exploration of anarcho-pacifism, looking outside of India. This is a task I have already started through interviews with anarcho-pacifists in the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand. I hope to continue work on both of these fronts heading into the future.

More can also be learnt from other movements that are not anarcho-pacifist, including movements that did/do utilise violence. Here, I specifically refer to other experiences of anarchism, such as the experiences in Spain, Chiapas and Rojava. The Spanish experience, although many decades have now passed since its existence, probably offers the most comprehensive insight into the ins and outs of organising non-hierarchically on a large scale (Mintz, 2013; Bookchin, 1977). Unlike the sarvodaya movement, it also did this within cities and towns, until it was destroyed. The Zapatistas have created their own indigenous model of anarchism, which has now survived for over two decades, even though interest in the movement from the outside has reduced since the resignation of Subcommandate Marcos (Evans, 2009). The Kurdish anarchists in Rojava, inspired by the writings of Murray Bookchin, have moved from Marxism to anarchism, and, while they are not pacifist, within their movement they are enacting many anarchist principles and have a very strong focus on equality and emancipation (Knapp, 2016). It remains to be seen if they can maintain their movement in the short-term while being attacked by the Turkish government, or in the long-term after the Syrian war is over.

Finally, there is more theoretical work to be done on anarcho-pacifism. A starting point for this can be found by looking to the areas of peace studies, outlined above, which touch upon anarcho-pacifist theory. To build anarcho-pacifism into a theory that challenges the dominant paradigm is a large task. I hope that this thesis has contributed to this task in a small way by pointing to violences that are largely ignored, the largely invisible lived practices that challenge them, and a step on a path to realising a radical nonviolent politics in the future. As I stated in my introduction, this thesis was an exercise in activist-research. I, as somebody who identifies with the label of anarcho-pacifism, engaged with the concept more deeply, further exploring my own views as well as the theory, and then discussing this with people who have a wealth of experience that is far greater than my own in living out the theory. I am deeply grateful to the almost thirty people who took the time to sit with me and participate in this research, and although not all of their voices have been included here, I endeavour to bring their voices into future work.

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Glossary of Non-English Terms

Ahimsa Nonviolence
Adivasi Indigenous
Antyodaya Welfare of the lowest
Ashram Spiritual communities
Bapu Father
Bodhisattva A person whose sole motivation/purpose is to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings.
Bhoodan Land-gift
Brahmachari Somebody who practices Brahmacharya
Brahmacharya Literally “going after Brahma” ; celibacy.
Dalit Literally “oppressed” ; refers to people who were/are labelled untouchable.
Charkha Spinning wheel
Gramdan Village-gift
Gramswaraj Village self-rule
Harijan Literally “children of God” ; The word that Gandhi used to refer to people who were/are labelled untouchable. Dalit is the word that is now used.
Hind Swaraj Literally “Home Rule” ; A book by Gandhi that is the sarvodaya movements manifesto.
Khadi Home-spun cloth
Kisans Farmers/Peasants
Lokaniti Politics of the people.
Mahatma Great soul
Moksha Liberation (Hinduism/ Jainism). Breaking the cycle of rebirths.
Nai Talim Literally “new way” ; basic education.
Nirvana Liberation (Buddhism). A state of mind that is achieved when one becomes enlightened or sees reality as it is.
Panchayat Literally “assembly of five” ; democratically elected Village Council.
Panchayat Raj Literally “rule of assembly of five” (see panchayat); A system of government.
Ramraj Literally “rule of Ram” ; The ideal society or the society of Ram/God.
Samyasin Somebody who has renounced the world.
Satya Truth
Satyagraha Truth, Soul, or Love force.
Satyagrahi A person who practices satyagraha.
Sarvodaya Welfare of All or Uplift of All.
Sarva Seva Sangh Association of the Service of all.
Sarvodaya Samaj Society for the welfare of all.
Sarvodaya Sammelan Welfare for all annual conference.
Stri Shakti Female Power
Shanti Sena Peace force/army
Swadeshi Localness
Swaraj Self-rule
Vedas Literally “knowledge” ; A set of ancient Indian scriptures written in Sanskrit.

Note: Words that are commonly used in English or are only found once in the text, and are defined there, are not included in this glossary.


Appendix One: Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

From: Sharp, G. (1973). The politics of nonviolent action. Boston: P. Sargent Publisher.


Formal Statements

  1. Public Speeches

  2. Letters of opposition or support

  3. Declarations by organizations and institutions

  4. Signed public statements

  5. Declarations of indictment and intention

  6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience

  1. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols

  2. Banners, posters, and displayed communications

  3. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books

  4. Newspapers and journals

  5. Records, radio, and television

  6. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations

  1. Deputations

  2. Mock awards

  3. Group lobbying

  4. Picketing

  5. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts

  1. Displays of flags and symbolic colors

  2. Wearing of symbols

  3. Prayer and worship

  4. Delivering symbolic objects

  5. Protest disrobings

  6. Destruction of own property

  7. Symbolic lights

  8. Displays of portraits

  9. Paint as protest

  10. New signs and names

  11. Symbolic sounds

  12. Symbolic reclamations

  13. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals

  1. “Haunting” officials

  2. Taunting officials

  3. Fraternization

  4. Vigils

Drama and Music

  1. Humorous skits and pranks

  2. Performances of plays and music

  3. Singing


  1. Marches

  2. Parades

  3. Religious processions

  4. Pilgrimages

  5. Motorcades

Honoring the Dead

  1. Political mourning

  2. Mock funerals

  3. Demonstrative funerals

  4. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies

  1. Assemblies of protest or support

  2. Protest meetings

  3. Camouflaged meetings of protest

  4. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation

  1. Walk-outs

  2. Silence

  3. Renouncing honors

  4. Turning one’s back


Ostracism of Persons

  1. Social boycott

  2. Selective social boycott

  3. Lysistratic nonaction

  4. Excommunication

  5. Interdict

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions

  1. Suspension of social and sports activities

  2. Boycott of social affairs

  3. Student strike

  4. Social disobedience

  5. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System

  1. Stay-at-home

  2. Total personal noncooperation

  3. “Flight” of workers

  4. Sanctuary

  5. Collective disappearance

  6. Protest emigration (hijrat)


Actions by Consumers

  1. Consumers’ boycott

  2. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods

  3. Policy of austerity

  4. Rent withholding

  5. Refusal to rent

  6. National consumers’ boycott

  7. International consumers’ boycott

Action by Workers and Producers

  1. Workmen’s boycott

  2. Producers’ boycott

Action by Middlemen

  1. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by Owners and Management

  1. Traders’ boycott

  2. Refusal to let or sell property

  3. Lockout

  4. Refusal of industrial assistance

  5. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by Holders of Financial Resources

  1. Withdrawal of bank deposits

  2. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments

  3. Refusal to pay debts or interest

  4. Severance of funds and credit

  5. Revenue refusal

  6. Refusal of a government’s money

Action by Governments

  1. Domestic embargo

  2. Blacklisting of traders

  3. International sellers’ embargo

  4. International buyers’ embargo

  5. International trade embargo


Symbolic Strikes

  1. Protest strike

  2. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes

  1. Peasant strike

  2. Farm Workers’ strike

Strikes by Special Groups

  1. Refusal of impressed labor

  2. Prisoners’ strike

  3. Craft strike

  4. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes

  1. Establishment strike

  2. Industry strike

  3. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes

  1. Detailed strike

  2. Bumper strike

  3. Slowdown strike

  4. Working-to-rule strike

  5. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)

  6. Strike by resignation

  7. Limited strike

  8. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes

  1. Generalized strike

  2. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures

118. Hartal

119. Economic shutdown


Rejection of Authority

  1. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance

  2. Refusal of public support

  3. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government

  1. Boycott of legislative bodies

  2. Boycott of elections

  3. Boycott of government employment and positions

  4. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies

  5. Withdrawal from government educational institutions

  6. Boycott of government-supported organizations

  7. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents

  8. Removal of own signs and placemarks

  9. Refusal to accept appointed officials

  10. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience

  1. Reluctant and slow compliance

  2. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision

  3. Popular nonobedience organizations

  4. Disguised disobedience

  5. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse

  6. Sitdown

  7. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation

  8. Hiding, escape, and false identities

  9. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by Government Personnel

  1. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides

  2. Blocking of lines of command and information

  3. Stalling and obstruction

  4. General administrative noncooperation

  5. Judicial noncooperation

  6. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents

  7. Mutiny

Domestic Governmental Action

  1. Quasi-legal evasions and delays

  2. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action

  1. Changes in diplomatic and other representations

  2. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events

  3. Withholding of diplomatic recognition

  4. Severance of diplomatic relations

  5. Withdrawal from international organizations

  6. Refusal of membership in international bodies

  7. Expulsion from international


Psychological Intervention

  1. Self-exposure to the elements

  2. The fast

    1. Fast of moral pressure

    2. Hunger strike

    3. Satyagrahic fast

  3. Reverse trial

  4. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention

  1. Sit-in

  2. Stand-in

  3. Ride-in

  4. Wade-in

  5. Mill-in

  6. Pray-in

  7. Nonviolent raids

  8. Nonviolent air raids

  9. Nonviolent invasion

  10. Nonviolent interjection

  11. Nonviolent obstruction

  12. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention

  1. Establishing new social patterns

  2. Overloading of facilities

  3. Stall-in

  4. Speak-in

  5. Guerrilla theater

  6. Alternative social institutions

  7. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention

  1. Reverse strike

  2. Stay-in strike

  3. Nonviolent land seizure

  4. Defiance of blockades

  5. Politically motivated counterfeiting

  6. Preclusive purchasing

  7. Seizure of assets

  8. Dumping

  9. Selective patronage

  10. Alternative markets

  11. Alternative transportation systems

  12. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention

  1. Overloading of administrative systems

  2. Disclosing identities of secret agents

  3. Seeking imprisonment

  4. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws

  5. Work-on without collaboration

  6. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

Appendix Two: Gandhi’s 11 Vows and the Activities of the Satyagraha Ashram

Gandhi, M. K. (2010d). Ashram observances in action (V. G. Desai, Trans.), pp. 65–74. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Satyagraha Ashram Founded on Vaishakha Shudi 11, Samvat 1971, — May 25, 1915 — at Kochrab, Ahmedabad and since removed to Sabarmati, a junction station near Ahmedabad.

Object: The object of this Ashram is that its members should qualify themselves for, and make a constant endeavour towards, the service of the country, not inconsistent with the universal welfare.

Observances: The following observances are essential for the fulfillment of the above object:


Truth is not fulfilled by mere abstinence from telling or practising an untruth in ordinary relations with fellow-men. But Truth is God, the one and only Reality. All other observances take their rise from the quest for, and the worship of, Truth. Worshippers of Truth must not resort to untruth, even for what they may believe to be the good of the country, and they may be required, like Prahlad, civilly to disobey the orders even of parents and elders in virtue of their paramount loyalty to Truth.

Non-violence or Love

Mere non-killing is not enough. The active part of Non-violence is Love. The law of Love requires equal consideration for all life from the tiniest insect to the highest man. One who follows this law must not be angry even with the perpetrator of the greatest imaginable wrong, but must love him, wish him well and serve him. Although he must thus love the wrong-doer, he must never submit to his wrong or his injustice, but must oppose it with all his might, and must patiently and without resentment suffer all the hardships to which the wrong-doer may subject him in punishment for his opposition.

Chastity (Brahmacharya)

Observance of the foregoing principles is impossible without the observance of celibacy. It is not enough that one should not look upon any woman or man with a lustful eye; animal passion must be so controlled as to be excluded even from the mind. If married, one must not have a carnal mind regarding one’s wife or husband, but must consider her or him as one’s lifelong friend, and establish relationship of perfect purity. A sinful touch, gesture or word is a direct breach of this principle.

Control of the Palate

The observance of Brahmacharya has been found, from experience, to be extremely difficult so long as one has not acquired mastery over taste. Control of the palate has therefore been placed as a principle by itself. Eating is necessary only for sustaining the body and keeping it a fit instrument for service, and must never be practised for self-indulgence. Food must therefore be taken, like medicine, under proper restraint. In pursuance of this principle one must eschew exciting foods, such as spices and condiments. Meat, liquor, tobacco, bhang etc. are excluded from the Ashram. This principle requires abstinence from feasts or dinners which have pleasure as their object.


It is not enough not to take another’s property without his permission. One becomes guilty of theft even by using differently anything which one has received in trust for use in a particular way, as well as by using a thing longer than the period for which it has been lent. It is also theft if one receives anything which he does not really need. The fine truth at the bottom of this principle is that Nature provides just enough and no more, for our daily need.

Non-possession or Poverty

This principle is really a part of No. V. Just as one must not receive, so must one not possess anything which one does not really need. It would be a breach of this principle to possess unnecessary foodstuffs, clothing, or furniture. For instance one must not keep a chair if one can do without it. In observing this principle one is led to a progressive simplification of one’s own life.

Physical Labour

Physical labour is essential for the observance of Non- stealing and Non-possession. Man can be saved from injuring society, as well as himself, only if he sustains his physical existence by physical labour. Able-bodied adults must do all their personal work themselves, and must not be served by others, except for proper reasons. But they must at the same time remember, that service of children, as well as of the disabled, the old and the sick, is a duty incumbent on every person who has the required strength.


Man is not omnipotent. He therefore serves the world best by first serving his neighbour. This is Swadeshi, a principle which is broken when one professes to serve those who are more remote in preference to those who are near. Observance of Swadeshi makes for order in the world ; the breach of it leads to chaos. Following this principle, one must as far as possible purchase one’s requirements locally and not buy things imported from foreign lands, which can easily be manufactured in the country. There is no place for self-interest in Swadeshi, which enjoins the sacrifice of oneself for the family, of the family for the village, of the village for the country, and of the country for humanity.


One cannot follow Truth or Love so long as one is subject to fear. As there is at present a reign* of fear in the country, meditation on and cultivation of fearlessness have a particular importance. Hence its separate mention as an observance. A seeker after Truth must give up the fear of parents, caste, government, robbers etc., and he must not be frightened by poverty or death.

Removal of Untouchability

Untouchability, which has taken such deep root in Hinduism, is altogether irreligious. Its removal has therefore been treated as an independent principle. The so-called untouchables have an equal place in the Ashram with other classes. The Ashram does not believe in caste which, it considers, has injured Hinduism, because its implications of superior and inferior status, and of pollution by contact are contrary to the law of Love. The Ashram however believes in varnashrama dharma. The division of varncis is based upon occupation, and therefore, a person should maintain himself by following the hereditary occupation, not inconsistent with fundamental morals, and should devote all his spare time and energy to the acquisition and advancement of true knowledge. The ashramas (the four stages) spoken of in the smritis are conducive to the welfare of mankind. Though, therefore, the Ashram believes in varnashrama dharma. there is no place in it for distinction of varnas as the Ashram life is conceived in the light of the comprehensive and non-formal sannyasa of the Bhagavadgita.


The Ashram believes that the principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of Truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect man, they have been affected by imperfections and alloyed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as one accords to one’s own. Where such tolerance becomes a law of life, conflict between different faiths becomes impossible, and so does all effort to convert other people to one’s own faith. One can only pray that the defects in the various faiths may be overcome, and that they may advance, side by side, towards perfection.


As a result of and in order to help fulfillment of these observances, the following activities are carried on in the Ashram :


The social (as distinguished from the individual) activities of the Ashram commence every day with the congregational morning worship at 4: 15 to 4: 45 and close with the evening prayer at 7 to 7: 30. All inmates are expected to attend the worship. This worship has been conceived as an aid to self-purification and dedication of one’s all to God.

Sanitary Service

This is an essential and sacred service and yet it is looked down upon in society, with the result that it is generally neglected and affords considerable scope for improvement. The Ashram, therefore, lays special stress upon engaging no outside labour for this work. The members themselves attend in turns to the whole of the sanitation. New entrants are generally first of all attached to this department. Trenches are sunk to the depth of nine inches, and the nightsoil is buried in them and covered with the excavated earth. It thus becomes converted into valuable manure. Calls of nature are attended to only at places assigned for the purpose. Care is taken that the roads and paths should not be spoilt by spitting or otherwise.

Sacrificial Spinning

Today Indians most urgent problem is the growing starvation of her millions, which is chiefly due to the deliberate destruction, by alien rule, of her principal auxiliary industry of hand-spinning. With a view to its rehabilitation in national life, spinning has been made the central activity of the Ashram, and is compulsory for all members as a national sacrifice. The following are the various branches of work in this department:

  1. Cotton cultivation

  2. Workshop for making and repairing spinning wheels, spindles, carding bows et cetera;

  3. Ginning;

  4. Carding;

  5. Spinning;

  6. Weaving cloth, carpets, tape, rope, et cetera; VII. Dyeing and printing.


Cotton for the khadi work and fodder crops for the cattle are the chief activities of this department. Vegetables fruit are also grown in order to make the Ashram as far as possible self-contained.


An attempt is being made to convert into a model dairy the Ashram dairy which supplies milk to the inmates. Since last year this dairy is being carried on in consonance with the principles of and with the pecuniary help of the All-India Cow Protection Association, but as an integral part of the Ashram itself. There are at present 27 cows, 47 calves and young stock, 10 bullocks and 4 bulls. The average daily output of milk is 200 pounds.


At the instance and with the help of the All-India Cow Protection Association, a tannery has been established for the tanning of dead-cattle hides. There is attached to it a sandal and shoe-making department. The dairy and tannery have been established because the Ashram believes, in spite of the claim Hindus make to the protection of the cow, that Indian cattle will further and further deteriorate and ultimately die out, carrying man along with them, unless vigorous attention is paid to cattle-breeding, cattle-feeding and the utilization in the country of dead-cattle hides.

National Education

An attempt is made in the Ashram to import such education as is conducive to national welfare. In order that spiritual, intellectual and physical development may proceed side by side, an atmosphere of industry has been created, and letters are not given more than their due importance. Character building is attended to in the smallest detail. ‘Untouchable’ children are freely admitted.

Women are given special attention with a view to improving their status, and they are accorded the same opportunities for self-culture as the men.

The Ashram accepts the following principles of the Gujarat Vidyapith: The principal object of the Vidyapith shall be to prepare workers of character, ability, education and conscientiousness, necessary for the conduct of the movements connected with the attainment of Swaraj.

All the institutions conducted by and affiliated to the Vidyapith shall be fully non-co-operating and shall therefore have nothing to do with any help from Government.

Whereas the Vidyapith has come into being in connection with the Swaraj movement, and non-violent non- co-operation as a means thereof, its teachers and trustees shall restrict themselves to those means only which are not inconsistent with truth and non-violence and shall consciously strive to carry them out.

The teachers and the trustees of the Vidyapith, as also all the institutions affiliated to it, shall regard untouchability as a blot on Hinduism, shall strive to the best of their power for its removal, and shall not exclude a boy or girl for reason of his or her untouchability nor shall give him or her differential treatment having once accorded admission to him or her.

The teachers and the trustees of, and all the institutions affiliated to, the Vidyapith shall regard hand spinning as an essential part of the Swaraj movement and shall therefore spin regularly, except when disabled, and shall habitually wear Khadi.

The language of the province shall have the principal place in the Vidyapith and shall be the medium of instruction.

Explanation : Languages other than Gujarati may be taught by direct method.

The teaching of Hindi-Hindustani shall be compulsory in the curricula of the Vidyapith.

Manual training shall receive the same importance as intellectual training and only such occupations as are useful for the life of the nation shall be taught.

Whereas the growth of the nation depends not on its cities but its villages, the bulk of the funds of the Vidyapith and a majority of the teachers of the Vidyapith shall be employed in the propagation of education conducive to the welfare of the villages.

In laying down the curricula, the needs of village dwellers shall have principal consideration.

There shall be complete toleration of all established religions in all institutions conducted by and affiliated to the Vidyapith; and for the spiritual development of the pupils, religious instruction shall be imparted in consonance with truth and non-violence.

For the physical development of the nation physical exercise and physical training shall be compulsory in all the institutions conducted by and affiliated to the Vidyapith.

Khadi Technical School

A separate technical school is conducted, which prepares candidates for the Khadi Service on behalf of the All-India Spinners’ Association.. The curriculum is as follows:

21 weeks spinning...

7 weeks carding...

2 weeks ginning...

Handloom weaving..


The average monthly food bill per student amounts to about 12 rupees..

Appendix Three: Interview Participant Biographies

  • Shri. A. Annamalai is the Director of the National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi. The Museum is a resource Centre for Gandhian and related studies, that aims to preserve and promote Gandhi related resources.

  • Anand Mazgaonkar is an activist and a national convenor of the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM). NAPM is an organisation focused on developing decentralised democracy. Anand has worked on many issues around environmental and social justice. He is also a member of a collective called Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS).

  • Daniel Mazgaonkar is an activist and was a full-time member of Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement, along with his wife, Hansa. After settling in Mumbai, Daniel continued to dedicate his life to the movement, going door-to-door selling literature, and living on donations. He was also heavily involved in Jayaprakash Narayan’s nonviolent movement, spending time in prison during this movement. He is the founder of the Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre. His son is Anand Mazgaonkar (mentioned above).

  • Dilip Simeon is a Labour Historian and public intellectual. He is a trustee of the Aman trust, and was previously a senior research fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. He has also taught as a visiting scholar at multiple university institutions, including Surat, Sussex, Chicago, Leiden and Princeton. He has also worked on conflict-mitigation projects with Oxfam. Dilip is also author of the novel, “Revolution Highway”, and was a participant in the first phase of the Naxalite movement.

  • Kumar Prashant is the Chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, a major Gandhian institution based in Delhi. It is focused on study, research, communication and action, in line with Gandhian ideals.

  • Michael Nagler is the founder of Peace and Conflict at UC Berkeley, where he is Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature. He is the founder of the Metta Centre for Nonviolence, which works on promoting, assisting and envisioning a nonviolent future. In 2007, he was given the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for “Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India”. He is also involved in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, and writes and speaks on nonviolence frequently. He is based in California, and is one of two interview participants who reside in the USA.

  • Rajiv Vora is a writer, scholar and activist. He is the founder and chairperson of the Swaraj Peeth Trust. Swarj Peeth is, in their own words,

“a non-profit organization engaged in demonstrating the inspirational power of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision, thought, and method.” They are “a Gandhian center for nonviolence and peace, work for Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Swaraj – Home-Rule or Self Rule based on culture of nonviolence or cultural democracy — through building a community based nonviolent social force called Gandhi Shanti Sena; organising public dialogues, training in nonviolence and education programmes for creating swaraj awareness in various areas of life” (Swaraj Peeth, 2017). Swaraj Peeth is currently focused on peace work in Kashmir and Bihar, amongst other places. Formerly, Rajiv was an editor of the Gandhi Marg (Hindi) journal.

He was heavily involved in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Bihar Movement. He has a background in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping through his Shanti Sena work and work with Nonviolence Peaceforce.

  • Sandeep Pandey is an activist and academic. He is the founder of a group called Asha for Education, a leader in NAPM, and Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He has led multiple significant peace marches to work against nuclear weapons and for peace between India and Pakistan, amongst other issues. I met him as he was a visiting academic at the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar.

  • Stephanie Van Hook is the Executive Director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. She is an educator trained in Montessori Early Childhood Education. She writes regularly about nonviolence and Gandhi, and hosts a radio show about nonviolence. She was a member of the Peace Corps. She is based in California, and is one of two interview participants who reside in the USA.

  • Tridip Suhrud, at the time of interviewing, is an intellectual serving as the Director of Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. He is now the Professor and Director of CEPT University Archives, Ahmedabad.

  • Dr. Usha Thakkar is President, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. She retired as Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. She has done postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago on Fulbright Fellowship and at Cornell University on Sr. Fulbright Fellowship and at York University (Canada) on WID Fellowship from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. She was also Visiting Fellow at Sheffield City Polytechnic, UK. She has been Vice-President, Asiatic Society of Mumbai, and also of Banasthali Vidyapith (Deemed University for women), Rajasthan. Her research areas are Gandhian Studies, Women’s Studies, and Indian Politics. She has presented papers at many national and international conferences and has contributed in many prestigious journals. Her publications include Gandhi in Bombay (co-author), Understanding Gandhi (co-edited) and Women in Indian Society (co-author), amongst others. She is connected with many educational institutions.

  • Yogesh Kamdar is a human rights activist and National Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which was founded by Jayprakash Narayan. It is the oldest and largest Human Rights group in India.

[1] A three wheeled auto-rickshaw.

[2] A type of Buddhist monument.

[3] These positions will be argued throughout this thesis, but especially in Chapters Two and Three.

[4] Square brackets are used in the in-text references of this thesis to show the original publication date.

[5] Some may call themselves anarchists who advocate for nonviolence, as they find the term pacifism problematic. Some also called themselves pacifists and find the term anarchism problematic. However, they neatly fit into the definition of anarcho-pacifism that I use in this thesis in terms of their views and practices.

[6] Kropotkin is found in the reading list of Narayan Desai’s book Towards a Nonviolent Revolution (1972). Desai, for those who do not know his name, was a very significant Gandhian, see Meyer (2015) and Shepard (1987, pp. 41–62).

[7] In this chapter I refer to anarchist rejections of the state, capitalism, racism and sexism. This is because the rejection of these is integral to the anarchist position. However, the specific reasons for why it rejects them will be discussed in the next chapter.

[8] I searched the Factiva database for the terms ‘Seattle’ ‘protest’ and ‘violence’ in a date range from 30/11/1999, the start of the protests, until 05/11/1999.

[9] They do not use the word “peace” in these examples, but instead imply peace by maintain order by stopping the “violence” of the other.

[11] The discussion of authority and domination and exploitation is important. While other leftist schools of thought may recognise the violence of exploitation, they do not recognise its relationship with domination (McLaughlin, 2007, p. 50), or that both can be produced, reinforced and increased by authority. As will be discussed in the next chapter, capitalism and the wage slavery that it relies upon – exploitation — cannot occur without the acts of the state – domination – that are justified by authority.

[12] Nonviolent tactics will be discussed in Chapter Three.

[13] This is opposed to negative peace, which is the absence of war – “a condition in which no active, organised military violence is taking place” (Barash and Webel, 2008, p. 6).

[14] Shinko (2008, pp. 476–477) writes that, “The concept of agonism encompasses a range of contestational political strategies through which exclusions, marginalisations, and states of domination can be problematised, resisted, and possibly altered…[it is] a permanent state of provocation intended to encourage openness and fluidity in emerging power relations.”

[15] For a summary, see Cady 2010, Seller and Norman, 2012 and Fiala, 2014.

[16] The term state-capitalism has a different meaning. It is a capitalist system where the state, rather than capitalists, owns the means of production (Cliff, 1974).

[17] Forms of states, such as city-states, date back much further than capitalism. An anarchist exploration of these states would undoubtedly point towards their violent nature. While this is the case, the concern of this thesis is normative rather than historical. Because of this it focuses on the violence of the state as it currently exists, which is what anarcho-pacifists are currently aiming to challenge.

[18] See the discussion on capitalism and Marxism below.

[19] The violence of capitalism is discussed under the structural violence heading below.

[20] This was a National Party campaign that aimed to subsume Maori nations, iwi, under one “Kiwi” nation.

[21] As referenced above, Tilly (1975) writes that war led to the creation of the state. Interestingly, Graeber (2015, p. 8) writes that markets owe their creation to the state and often in its relationship with war. Coinage was initially introduced “as a means of provisioning soldiers” and “Modern central banking systems were likewise first created to finance wars”.

[22] The same could be said of capitalism as a economic system.

[23] This direct and structural violence is of course supported by cultural violence, optimized by the idea that the capitalist-state is all that is possible (Fukuyama, 1992).

[24] By creating unhappiness and suffering, the capitalist state is of course also perpetuating psychological violence in various ways, but it has been outside the scope of this thesis to explore this in any detail.

[25] From hereon in I will use the words revolution and social transformation interchangeably. By revolution I do not only mean the removal of a government but a social revolution, which is transformation towards a radically new way of political and economic organisation (Skocpol, 1979). Here, that social transformation is towards peace, as defined in Chapter One.

[26] Following this definition, I do not include property damage as a form of violence, unless it involves harming people. I mention this because a lot of recent discussions about the use of violence in anarchist circles focuses on this issue. While taking this position, it will be recognised below that war often destroys infrastructure and this can have violent effects. I also briefly discuss the line between violence and nonviolence in relation to property destruction when defining violence in Chapter One.

[27] The First International, or the International Workingmen’s Association, was an organisation founded in 1864 to unite left-wing groups around the world. Its membership included groups with Marxist, anarchist, socialist ideologies that were focused on creating revolution.

[28] The anarchist individualists have generally recognised that violence violates liberty and have therefore rejected it. In addition, all anarchists with only a couple of exceptions have opposed all wars between nation-states (Ostergaard, 1982, p. 13).

[29] Scarry (1987, pp. 64–69) writes that the fact that war is about injury is disowned to allow war’s perpetuation. This is done through acts of omission and redescription.

[30] I use multiple large quotes from anarchists in this chapter, following the logic of the Anarchist FAQ (2017), who write: “Readers may consider our use of extensive quoting as being an example of a ‘quotation [being] a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself’ (A.A. Milne). This is not the case of course. We have included extensive quotations by many anarchist figures for three reasons. Firstly, to indicate that we are not making up our claims of what certain anarchists thought or argued for. Secondly, and most importantly, it allows us to link the past voices of anarchism with its present adherents. And lastly, the quotes are used for their ability to convey ideas succinctly rather than as an appeal to ‘authority.’”

[31] I will discuss this further in Chapters Eight and Nine.

[32] The Anarchist FAQ is an editorial collective. It “was written by anarchists across the world in an attempt to present anarchist ideas and theory to those interested in it. It is a co-operative effort, produced by a (virtual) working group and it exists to present a useful organising tool for anarchists on-line and, hopefully, in the real world.”

[33] This not to say people never get hurt – but people always get hurt with guns and overall, nonviolence, when well organised and planned, tends to experience less harm (See Wallace, 2017).

[34] While Gelderloos seems to be regularly cited on the issue of violence and nonviolence in anarchism, he fails to engage with nonviolence theory and research in multiple ways. For a comprehensive direct response to Gelderloos, see Martin (2008). Having said this, the arguments in this chapter will respond to it indirectly in many ways as the productiveness of violence is challenged and nonviolence is engaged with.

[35] These are common revolutionary arguments, not just anarchist. See Frazer and Hutchings (2007, p. 186).

[36] For an overview of this with critique, see Vinthagen (2015, pp. 25–60). Vinthagen (re)introduces Gandhian and feminist approaches in relation to Sharp’s theory. He states that power processes influence the conditions of resistance, and that Sharp underestimates this. As a result, Vinthagen adds that Sharp’s approach happens in a social context, and that there are additional dimensions to Sharp’s theory that Sharp does not recognise.

[37] Anarchists have always opposed the Marxist revolutionary vision of the dictatorship of the proletariat as this would entail using the state to make revolutionary change. This will be elaborated on later in the chapter under the heading “Violence to Reach a Desired End”.

[38] Again, see Chapter One.

[39] May (2015, pp. 74–79) refers to Gandhi, and following him, Martin Luther King Jr., as examples of nonviolent coercion in action. The first important step is for persuasion to be attempted first. It opens the revolutionary up to the other, admitting that they could be wrong, and that the person they challenge may reveal something that was unknown, from either side. It humanises the person in authority who is being challenged. It allows for an establishment of the facts, for people to listen to one another, and then to establish that the other is not only wrong because they have a different viewpoint, but because they do not speak truth. If persuasion fails, May, writes that coercive is made nonviolent by Gandhi’s emphasis on the revolutionaries’ (satyagrahi’s) willingness to suffer for their goals.

[40] As I have written in previous chapters, anarcho-communist writing tends to suggest that human cooperation is what naturally emerges when conditions of domination are removed. In other words, it is our natural state, its not built by being violent. I have mentioned this argument here because it is a common response from leftism as a whole, and may be held by some anarchist activists, if not the anarchist theorists.

[41] Although, at the same time he stressed the need to direct violence against institutions, not people (Dolgoff, 1972).

[42] I do not want to create the impression that the romantic view of violence or violent imagery is characteristic of anarchism as a whole. It has varied from theorist to theorist and from anarchist movement to anarchist movement. Therefore, this discussion is not directed at all anarchists, but at a particular tendency within the tradition.

[43] Propaganda by the deed does not have to be violent, but this chapter is discussing violence, so that is the context I am talking about it in.

[44] I list this as a famous example. It is worth noting that many anarchists at the time saw this act as hindering their cause, and they were critical of Emma Goldman when she wrote a short piece in support of Leon Czolgosz who committed the assassination, and who was later executed. This also was not the first or the last time that anarchists, rightly or wrongly, had been connected to terrorism in the USA or elsewhere.

[45] It is important to note that anarchists never make the violence of the state romantic (Carter, 1978, p. 339).

[46] When I make this argument I really want to emphasize that it is not a rejection of the Zapatistas in Chiapas or of the Kurds in Rojava. It is a critique of violence, how it is envisaged, and the effects it has. There is no doubt that the anarchist experiment in Rojava is the largest in recent history and that lots can be learned from its democratic structures and its ways of opposing patriarchy. The positive elements of any movement should be explored, encouraged and supported.

[47] This is also referred to as the “red” and “black” division, the figurehead of the red being Karl Marx and the figurehead of the black being Mikhail Bakunin.

[48] Cady (2010 p. 17) suggests that warism, the belief that war is justified, is the key obstacle to pacifism being taken seriously. Cady (2010, p. 21) writes that “…warism is like racism, sexism, and homophobia: a prejudicial bias built into conceptions and judgments without the awareness of those assuming it.”

[49] Some work discusses Gandhi’s view on the state such as Mantena (2012a), but do not explore how he saw his village plan as a workable alternative in detail.

[50] There is also a sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka, inspired by the movement in India, but I do not engage with the Sri Lankan movement in this research.

[51] To make it easier for readers to refer back to this information, the participants biographies can also be found in Appendix Three.

[52] In December 2016, the Modi government cancelled, without warning, all 500 and 1000 rupee notes. Their justification was that they were cracking down on black money. In an economy where most currency is cash, this created many problems, as everybody had to exchange old notes for new which were not easily accessible, and queue for hours when ATMs were filled.

[53] A glossary of non-English terms is provided at the end of the thesis.

[54] Communalism has a different meaning in the Indian context than elsewhere. It is used to describe sectarian behaviour that incites violence between different groups.

[55] Some criticisms will be discussed in more detail later in the next chapter.

[56] Indira Gandhi is no relation to the Mahatma. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru.

[57] In addition to the texts mentioned so far, a text by Lanza Del Vasto (1974 [1954]) provides a biography and overview of Vinoba from the beginning of the bhoodan movement.

[58] Again, see the previous chapter for more detail on this.

[59] Although some of the formerly landless took advantage of this, turning what was so-called unusable land into farmable land (Shepard, 1987, pp. 91–103).

[60] After defeating ISIS, the Turkish government is now, as of March 2018, attacking them.

[61] It is through having obeyed them first that you determine what law is just and unjust (Sarma, 1980, p. 229). During a satyagraha campaign, satyagrahis would obey other laws that they were not specifically challenging at that time.

[62] Gandhi often put a stronger emphasis on bravery than violence (Finkelstein, 2012), as he expresses that action is more important than non-action. As a result, he sees more hope in violent movements for change than inaction, and sees more hope that violent revolutionaries will convert to nonviolence than those who he calls “impotent”. However, he still sees nonviolence as the only hope for the change he seeks, and does not commit to or engage in violent revolutionary action himself. As a result, he also condones violence in self-defense or defense of others if they are being attacked, as will be discussed further later in the thesis.

[63] Of course, violences that were not purely the result of British occupation should be rejected. As a result he rejected other violences in Indian society and worked hard to remove them, such as untouchability, mistreatment of animals, and religious divisions.

[65] As will be discussed further in Chapter Seven, also.

[66] I focused mostly on issues of necessity for the village, but it is important to highlight that other activities are also deemed important for village life. For example: music, dramas, games, exhibitions and forms of exercise, all of which would not be for profit but should be artistic and educational, are viewed as important (Gandhi, 2010c [1946], p. 36). I have given no space for the discussion of these as they are not fundamental to meeting the most basic needs of society on a day-to-day level, at least not in the same way as production of goods and political decision-making processes are. Therefore, they do not speak to how a nonviolent society can function.

[67] As discussed in previous chapters.

[68] Again, an Glossary of non-English terms is provided at the end of the thesis.

[69] By Congress, I mean the Indian National Congress – a secular political party formed in the late 1800s which opposed the British, becoming the ruling party after the British left. Pre-independence, it was a mass movement. Gandhi had become its president not long after returning to India from South Africa. Gandhi’s role and relationship with Congress changed over time, but they worked together to gain independence throughout the independence movement. He quit the party in 1934 (Nanda, 2004, p. 195; Wolpert, 2002, p. 188).

[70] I will discuss the constructive programme in more detail shortly.

[71] For an overview of the politics of action and demand, see Day (2004).

[72] Marxists generally reject Gandhi, and Indian Maoists could in some ways be seen as competitors to the sarvodaya philosophy as they strive for a communist society.

[73] See Chapter Two.

[74] See Chapter Three.

[75] Having said this, JP did organise a coalition of parties in order to stop dictatorship. This will be reflected upon in the next chapter. However, as the quote at the beginning suggests, he would not take a seat of power due to his commitment to nonviolence.

[76] Gautama Buddha rejected the caste system.

[77] This opinion piece in The Guardian by Connellan (2010) is a good example.

[78] See justification of long quotes in footnote number 29.

[79] I will further discuss the relationship between the individual and the structural within the Gandhian model in the last chapter.

[80] See Chapter Three.

[81] Again, see Chapter Three.

[82] For discussion of means and ends, see Chapter Three.

[83] See Chapter One for a discussion of authority and violence.

[84] As I discussed in Chapter Five, and as I will discuss again in following chapters.

[85] See Chapter Six.

[86] It should be noted that I do not have data that would give me a Maoist perspective on these engagements.

[87] See Chapter Five.

[88] However, through my research I am yet to see this reflected in Gandhian literature or within Gandhian organisations.

[89] Although Gandhi’s plan was for the villages, he worked for the uplift of those in cities in his life to, for example, with his satyagraha campaign with mill workers in Ahmedabad (Wolpert, 2002, p. 93).

[90] I will return to this discussion in the final chapter.

[91] See Chapter Six.

[92] As discussed in the last chapter.

[93] As outlined in Chapter Five.

[94] See Chapter Six.

[95] See Chapter Six.

[96] In India, socialists follow Gandhi, as well as the work of Lohia, and to a certain extent they takes example from JP.

[97] I use Bookchin here as a representative of the social anarchist tradition due to the significance of his work in this area.

[98] However, while I write this I do not mean to advocate for everything Gandhi did in this regard. I have openly dealt with areas where Gandhi’s self-training, in regards to his Brahmacharya vow, was concerning. As I have said, his behaviour in regard to his Brahmacharya vows, is not endorsed by the majority, if any, Indian traditions that deal with this subject. Also, the range of practices that claim to help one become more nonviolent probably have a range of effectiveness. Gandhi himself showed what seemed to be effective, non-effective, and harmfull methods in his experiments. Others, such as Vinoba appeared to be more effective than this– as possibly demonstrated by the remarkable control he had on is own body as he died like a Jain saint, and the total lack of negative accusations levelled against him.

[99] See Chapter Seven.