Gandhian protest

Letter by Paul Beswick, Penarth

This letter is to add my voice to the many which will no doubt be raised in protest against your response to George Paxton in Dec/Jan PN.
My initial thought, on reading your letter, was to cancel my subscription to PN. It was apparent to me that Gandhi’s integrity was under attack. Surely you must accept that to support a move towards civil war would mean everything he stood for – like Satyagraha – was no more than window dressing. Peace News often comes across as promoting class struggle (the cartoon opposite the letters in question would be a case in point). A revolution based on class struggle would indeed mean civil war – unlike a revolution based on a more transcendental, peaceful and Gandhian set of concerns. The recent correspondence with George Paxton makes it clear to me which sort of revolution I’d be in favour of, at least. I suppose I should thank you!

Milan Rai writes: I’m very sorry that you found my response to George Paxton’s letter so disturbing, Paul. I’m not sure what position you are taking on the documentation I referred to. It’s possible that I’ve misread Gandhi’s writings (which are available online, if you search for the “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi”).
It’s also possible that there has been some error in recording the conversations, letters and press statements cited. It’s possible that even if the documents cited are accurately recorded, I have missed equally numerous repudiations by Gandhi of these positions, immediately after making these statements, so that during the period 1928-1946 Gandhi only very briefly (if repeatedly) favoured a short, sharp civil war as a way of resolving Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India.
If there have been such errors or omissions, I’d be grateful if they could be pointed out. On the other hand, if the documents are accurate, if there were no such repeated repudiations, and if, therefore, my reading is a fair one, then we are faced with the problem of explaining how Gandhi could write, for example: “I am more than ever convinced that the communal problem [between Muslims and Hindus] should be resolved outside of legislation and if, in order to reach that state, there has to be civil war, so be it.” (Letter to C. Vijayaraghavachariar, 29 April 1928) Is it “attacking Gandhi’s integrity” to point out that he wrote such a letter? Or that he repeated these sentiments in a press statement of 25 April 1941, and in various conversations? Is it an attack on Gandhi, or is it pointing to a complexity in Gandhi that is uncomfortable for those of us who are committed to nonviolence?
As someone whose turn to nonviolence was deeply influenced by Gandhi’s example, I find these and other inconsistencies in his thought extremely uncomfortable. Is it not better, however, and more faithful to Gandhi’s legacy, to strive to learn from what Gandhi actually said and did, rather than to construct a plaster saint whose perfection allows us to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to match his courage and determination? As for class struggle, Peace News has long held that oppression based on class, like oppression based on gender or race, or disability or sexuality, should be abolished, and, in the meantime, should be struggled against.
Peace News has long held the position, if I’ve understood it correctly, that it is possible and desirable and necessary to struggle for a nonviolent revolution in which class division is abolished along with other forms of injustice.
I hope that we can reach agreement on this. (However, I suspect we will not reach agreement on your other point, but we are very honoured to still be hosting Donald Rooum’s very fine cartoons!) Perhaps I should say that, so far, yours has been the only letter received in protest against my contributions on Gandhi – if other readers would like to add their voices to the discussion, please do write in.