Mathma Gandhi address to WILPF meeting in Geneva in 1931

Manuscript of Mahadev Desai's Diary
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 20:00
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Initiative Type: 

I have heard a great deal of the magnificent scenery of your country, but seeing surpasses my expectations and the affection I have received has added to the joy of seeing the scenery of your country. I wish I had more time at my disposal to make the acquaintance of individuals and to see the beautiful spots of this country of yours. But I must not detain you by inviting you to share my joy. I know that all of you who have come to this meeting have been deprived of your luncheon hour and I must not waste that precious time of yours by talking to you of my joy. I want to talk to you about that to which my life is dedicated and that particularly is being tried on a scale not tried on this earth before. I refer to the means adopted in India for attaining independence. History shows that when a people have been subjugated and desire to get rid of the subjection, they have rebelled and resorted to use of arms. In India, on the other hand, we have resorted to means that are scrupulously non-violent and peaceful and strangers have testified and I am here to give my testimony that in a great measure we seem to have succeeded in attaining our goal. I know that it is still an experiment in making. I cannot claim absolute success as yet, but I venture to suggest to you that experience has gone so far that it is worth while to study the experience. I further suggest that, if that experience becomes a full success, India will have made a contribution to world peace for which the world is thirsting. You have in this great country of yours the Central Office of the League of Nations. That League is expected to perform wonders. It is expected to replace war and by its own power arbitrate between nations who might have differences between themselves. But it has always seemed to me that the League lacks the necessary sanction. It depends, as it has to, largely if not exclusively, on the judgment of the nations concerned. I venture to suggest to you that the means we have advocated in India supply the necessary sanction not only to a body like the League, but to any world organization for this great cause of the world. But I must not detain you in taking you through different phases of this movement. I must satisfy myself by just introducing to you this movement and by telling you of the progress the movement makes if it is successful. I have a series of questions and in order that I might give as much time as I can give you, I have given you only a brief introduction. I have already taken up 10 minutes. I am taking up only a few questions M. Privat has chosen.

The question about what I had and had not said in London.

This is what has been put in my mouth: “I have no sympathy for terrorism and violence. But if necessary, India will resort to violence, call that what you like.”

I referred the para to the Editor for correction and the correction confirms in its entirety the report he had sent. But I see that he has not reproduced passages from speeches from which he says he has quoted. My speeches at the Round Table Conference have been all officially reported and I can only tell you that throughout those speeches there can't be found a single word in corroboration of this statement. Then it is stated that I made a similar statement in some other speeches also. Meanwhile I must ask you to believe me when I say that I never made the statement that masses would, if necessary, resort to violence. I regard myself in my lucid moments as incapable of making a statement of that character. Non-violence is not a policy but a creed. I would pray to God that He may give me faith to lay down my life rather than countenance violence in any shape or form and, as this matter has attained some local importance, I respectfully call upon the correspondent to give his name and reproduce the report. And though tomorrow I shall be outside your jurisdiction, I shall take care to give the fullest satisfaction though I may be outside India. And I want to do so as I want to attain your goodwill. My movement and I have to stand or fall by the declaration I have made, viz., that I must stand by non-violence wholly unadulterated. At the same time I tender you my apology for having taken up a few minutes on a personal explanation.

Q. Why did you make such a solemn protest because newspapers had reported you advising soldiers to shoot in the air?

A. Whether I made a solemn protest I do not know, but I made my position clear. I do not want a single soldier, after having taken an oath to serve the army, to mislead the people by shooting in the air. I regard myself as a soldier, as a soldier of peace. I know the value of discipline and truth and I would consider it unmanly for a soldier who has taken an oath to deny himself the consequences when he defies the order by shooting in the air. In my opinion, when a soldier comes to the conclusion that it is inhuman and beneath the dignity of man, he should lay down arms and pay the penalty of insubordination.

Q. How could workers obtain justice without violence? If capitalists use force why should not workers use pressure?

A. This is the old law, the law of the jungle—blow against blow—and I have told you that I am endeavouring to make this experiment essentially to substitute the law of the jungle, which is foreign to man. You may not know that I am supposed to be the chief adviser to a labour union in Ahmedabad, which has commanded the testimony of labour experts. Through this labour union we have been endeavouring to enforce methods of non-violence for solving questions arising between the employers and the employed. Therefore, what I am now about to tell you is based upon actual experience—in the very line about which the question has been asked. In my humble opinion, labour can always vindicate itself provided it is united and self-sacrificing. No matter how oppressive capitalism may be, I am convinced that those who are connected with labour and guiding labour have no idea of the resources that labour can command and capitalism can never command. If labour would only understand and recognize that capital is perfectly helpless without labour, labour would easily come to its own. We have unfortunately come under the hypnotic suggestion and influence of capital that capital is all in all on earth. But a moment's thought would show that labour has at its disposal a capital that capitalists never possess. Ruskin taught in his age that labour had unrivalled opportunity. But he spoke above our heads. At the present moment an Englishman is making the same experiment. He is an economist and also a capitalist, but through economic researches he has come to the same conclusions that Ruskin arrived at intuitively and he has brought back a vital message. He says it is wrong to think that a piece of metal constitutes capital; it is also wrong to think that so much produce is capital. He adds that, if we go to the source, it is labour that is capital and that living capital cannot be reduced in terms of economics and it is inexhaustible. It is upon that law and truth we are conducting the labour union in Ahmedabad and fighting the Government and it is that law the recognition of which delivered 1,700,000 people in Champaran from age-long tyranny. I must not tarry to tell you what that tyranny was , but those who are interested in that problem will be able to study every one of the facts which I have put before them. Now I tell you what we have done. There is in the English language a very potent word—all languages have it: ‘No'. And the secret is that when capital wants labour to say ‘Yes', labour roars out ‘No'. And immediately labour comes to recognize that it has choice before it of saying ‘No' when it wants to say ‘No', it has nothing to fear and it would not matter in the slightest degree that capital has guns and poison gas at its disposal. Capital will still be perfectly helpless if labour will assert its dignity making good its ‘No'. Then labour does not need to retaliate, but stands defiant receiving the bullets and poison gas and still insists upon its ‘No'. But I tell you why labour so often fails. Instead of sterilizing capital as I have suggested labour should do (I say this as a labourer myself), it wants to seize capital and become capitalist itself in the worst sense of the term. And therefore the capitalist who is properly entrenched and organized, finding in labour a desire for the same objective, makes use of labour to suppress labour. And if we were really not under the hypnotic spell, every one of us—man and woman—would recognize this rock-bottom truth without the slightest difficulty. Having achieved brilliant successes in various departments of life, I am saying this with authority. I have placed before you something not superhuman but within the grasp of every labourer. You will see that what labour is called upon to do is nothing more than what Swiss soldiers are doing, for undoubtedly the Swiss soldier carries his own destruction in his pocket. I want labour to copy the courage of the soldier without copying the brute in the soldier, viz., the ability to inflict death, and I suggest to you that a labourer who courts death without carrying arms shows a courage of a much higher degree than the man who is armed from top to toe. Though this is a fascinating subject, I must reluctantly leave this point and go to the fourth question.

Q. Since disarmament chiefly depends on the Great Powers, why force it on Switzerland which is small and neutral and non-aggressive?

A. In the first place, from this neutral ground of yours I am speaking to all powers and not only to Switzerland. If you want to carry this message to other parts of Europe, I shall be absolved from all blame and seeing that Switzerland is neutral territory and non-aggressive, Switzerland does not need this army. Secondly, it is through your hospitality and by reason of your occupying this vantage ground. Is it not better for you to give the world a lesson in disarmament and show that you are brave enough to do without an army?

Q. Why do you ignore the sacred traditions of military development? Don't you know that the mere presence of the Swiss army saved us from the horror of being overrun by foreign armies?

A. Will the questioner forgive me if I say that a double ignorance underlies this question? He deplores the fact that, if you give up the profession of soldiering, you will miss the education you receive in service and sacrifice. None need run away with the idea that because you avoid military conscription you are not in for a conscription of a severer and nobler type. When I spoke to you about labour, I told you that labour ought to assimilate all the noble qualities of soldiering: endurance and defiance of death and sacrifice. When you disarm yourself, it does not mean that you will have a merry time. It is not that you are absolved from the duty of serving your homes when you give up soldiering; on the contrary, your women and children would be taking part in defending your homes. Again I am not talking to you without experience. In the little institution that we are conducting, we are teaching our women and children also how to save that institution—as we are living among thieves and robbers. Everything becomes simple and easy the moment you learn to give up your own life in order to save the life of others. And lastly it is really forgotten that safety which an individual derives from innocence is safety which no amount of arms will give you. The second part of the ignorance lies in the second part of the question. I must respectfully deny the truth of the statement that the presence of the Swiss army prevented the War from affecting Switzerland. Although Belgium had its own army, it was not saved and, if the rival armies had wanted a passage through Switzerland, believe me, they would have fought you also. You might have fought in turn, but you would have fought much better non-violently.

Q. How could a disarmed neutral country allow other nations to be destroyed? But for our army which was waiting ready at our frontier during the last War we should have been ruined?

A. At the risk of being considered a visionary or a fool, I must answer this in the manner I know. It would be cowardly of a neutral country if you allowed an army to devastate your country. But a moment ago I told you that there was one thing in common between the soliders of war and soldiers of non-violence and, if I had been a citizen of Switzerland or President of the Federal State, what I would have done would be to refuse passage to this army by refusing all supplies. Secondly, re-enacting a Thermopylae in Switzerland you would have presented a living wall of men, women and children and invited them to walk over your corpses. You may say that such a thing is beyond human experience and endurance. Then I can tell you that it was not beyond human experience last year.

We showed that it was quite possible. Women stood lathi charges without showing the slightest cowardice. In Peshawar thousands stood a hail of bullets without resorting to any violence whatsoever. Imagine such men and women standing in front of an army wanting safe passage. It would be brutal enough, you would say, to walk over them, but you would still have done your duty and allowed yourself to be annihilated. An army that dares to pass over corpses would not be able to repeat that experiment. You may, if you would, refuse to believe in such courage on the part of the masses of men and women, but then you would have to admit that non-violence is made of sterner stuff. It was never conceived as a weapon of the weak, but of the stoutest hearts.

Q. The International Red Cross is a special gift to the world. What do you think of it? It has saved thousands of lives.

A. I am ashamed to have to own that I do not know the history of this wonderful and magnificent organization. If it has saved persons by the million, my head bows before it. But having paid this tribute, may I say that this organization should cease to think of giving relief after war but of giving relief without war. If war had no redeeming features, no courage behind it, it would be a despicable thing and would not need a speech to destroy it. But what is here being prescribed to you is infinitely nobler than war in all its branches including the Red Cross organization. Believe me there are millions wounded by their own folly. There are millions of wretched homes on the face of the earth. Therefore the non-violent societies of tomorrow would have enough work chartered out for them when they take up international service and may Switzerland give the lead to the world.

Q. Can you give any message to individual organizations?

A. I venture to say that if, in answering all the questions asked, I have not given a message, I must confess I am not able to give any other message.

Q. What is the difference between your message and the Christian which we
prefer to keep?

A. I do not profess to give any original message at all. My message is as old as this earth and I do not know that it is at all different from the Christian message. If you mean by it non-violence, I should be sorry to discover that you have given up the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than that the Christians of Europe were translating in their lives the message of Jesus. The second question betrays ignorance. Shall I answer it in Biblical language—you cannot save yourself unless you are prepared to lose yourself

From the manuscript of Mahadev Desai's Diary. Courtesy: Narayan Desai