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globalising ghandi Arrow vol 4 no 3 contents
About borderlands volume 4 number 3, 2005


Globalising Gandhi: Translation, Reinvention, Application, Transformation

Sean Scalmer

Macquarie University



1. For Gandhi, non-violence was a universal aspiration (Gandhi, cited in Iyer, 1987: 70). Gandhi's Western interpreters also embraced this view (e.g., Gregg, 1960; Sharp, 1973), and in the half-century since the Mahatma's passing, 'Gandhism' has enjoyed international influence. Indeed, Gandhi's methods have been applied by civil rights campaigners in the US; pacifists in Britain; environmentalists in Australia; human shields in Iraq; and peace brigades around the world.

2. In this article, I ask two questions. First, how, precisely, were Gandhi's methods exported?   Who organised such diffusion? What did they do? What were the conditions that allowed them to do it? Second, what happened to the teachings of Gandhi in the process? Did they remain unchanged? Or were they transformed? Should the actions of Gandhi's disciples be understood as 'Gandhian'? As 'Gandhism'? Or did they stray too far from the master's path to merit such a designation?

3. These questions have long been ignored. 'Gandhian' scholars have often been more concerned to explore the particularity of the Mahatma's contribution than the breadth of his impact. Students of 'globalisation', for their part, have tended to adopt a Eurocentric viewpoint (as argued in Chabot and Duyvendak, 2002), in which transnational flows from East to West have passed unexamined. As a result, the global impact of Gandhism has not received due consideration.

4. How should the globalisation of Gandhi's methods be understood? In the quest to find an answer, this article combines a case-study methodology; an historical approach; and a theoretical perspective influenced by social-movement studies.

5. First, I explore the global diffusion of Gandhi's methods through the detailed examination of a particular case: the non-violent activism of British pacifists. The case study method is well established in the social sciences, but why Britain? Beginning with Harold Steele's 1957 attempt to disrupt nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, British pacifists gained international celebrity with their adoption of "direct action" techniques against nuclear weaponry. In 1958 the Easter march to the Aldermaston nuclear reactor helped give birth to a distinctive 'New Left' (Kenny, 1995). By 1960 the Committee of 100 was using civil disobedience in central London, and thereby helping to create a new era of   "independent social protest" (Hanagan, 1999: 25). Together, these activists developed a different kind of social movement for the West: theatrical, non-violent, network-based, outside of the Party system.

6. This movement owed much to Gandhi. Although they eventually attracted a broad following, the first campaigns were led by a group of pacifists directly inspired by Gandhi's example. Key participants and subsequent histories have since emphasised the seminal importance of Gandhi's distinctive methods and career (e.g., Randle, 1987; Taylor and Ward, 1983; Brock and Young, 1999). The export of non-violence to Britain therefore offers a valuable opportunity to trace the diffusion and application of Gandhi's methods outside India. It should open a wider window on the general processes through which Gandhism has become a 'global' political presence.

7. On what evidence is this exploration based? My account draws on detailed primary research: India Office records; archival material from relevant organisations and individuals (including detailed institutional records and letters); contemporary newspapers, pamphlets and journals; campaign ephemera, and published books.

8. What kinds of concepts does my explanation rest upon? Theoretically, this article applies and extends recent work in the study of social movements. In the last ten years, social-movement scholars have begun to investigate the diffusion of collective action across national boundaries. Briefly, they have emphasised two processes of particular relevance: translation and reinvention.

9. First, a political technique must be translated before it can be transmitted (Scalmer, 2000). An alien and foreign behaviour must become comprehensible. It must be restated in the local idiom. Translators attempt to rephrase the language of protest. They foster a sense of kinship and identification across national boundaries (Snow and Benford, 1999; McAdam, 1995). Their work makes the unknown familiar and thereby the unfamiliar possible.

10. Second, foreign political techniques are not simply copied. They are actually reinvented (Chabot, 2000). Local campaigners tinker and experiment with the tools that they have taken from overseas (Scalmer, 2002). They improvise with the elements of a new performance, and remake its political rhythms. Invariably, discoveries occur. Therefore, diffusion is never imitation. It is a creative, difficult, and exploratory act.

11. In the pages that follow, I explain the diffusion of Gandhism to Britain, focusing on the particular importance of translation and reinvention.


12. What was happening in India? What was Gandhi doing? The censorship of Indian newspapers made it difficult for Westerners to find out ( Peace News [henceforthPN], 7/2/41: 2). Gandhi's own writings offered one important source (Brailsford, 1941), and his public appearances in Britain another (anon, 1931). Both were insufficient. Western audiences were often unconvinced by Gandhi's oratorical style (anon, 1931b), and his publications were sometimes hard to locate (as noted in: anon, 1942). In 1946 one British pacifist surveyed the local situation: Gandhi's autobiography and central writings had been read by "surprisingly few"; key commentaries were out of print or had "curiously little impact"; Gandhi's newspaper, Harijan, could be considered only a "negligible" influence. In sum:

To say that Gandhi is available in English is an overstatement...The British pacifist movement has no deep insight into the Gandhian approach; it has made no systematic study of his actual campaigns, and still less has it understood the thought and vision that inspired them (Walker 1946: 747-8).

Not surprisingly, when Gandhi's example was contemplated during these years, it was invariably misquoted or misunderstood. As Richard Fox has recently argued, Gandhian protest was typically mistranslated through either the distorting lens of 'Orientialist hyper-difference' or the shallow framework of 'Western over-likeness' (Fox, 1997). [1]

13. 'Hyper-difference' posited a great gulf between the Indian and the British. It suggested that the differences between the Mahatma and John Bull were so substantial that a British version of 'Satyagraha' [2] would be frankly impossible. This version of 'Gandhism' was most associated with the translation of Gandhi's critics. It drew upon a wealth of 'orientalist' images. According to such an account, Gandhi was a representative of "Oriential reaction" (MacInnes, 1925: 124). His personality was "framed to baffle the Western mind" (anon, 1922: 746). Gandhi's methods were based on the "the mystic faith of the East" (Fuller, 1931: 174), or the "instinctive Buddhism of the East" (anon, 1921: 670). They expressed the primacy of "feeling and the emotions" (Bolton, 1934: 15). The British were different, because their political system was apparently based on "reason" (Bolton, 1934: 15). As a result, they had nothing to learn from this 'strange little brown man' (Fisher, 1932). [3]

14. Conversely, 'over-likeness' exaggerated the commonalities between the Indian and the British. This kind of translation was most associated with co-campaigners, anxious to build support for the struggle of Indians, but not deeply informed about its precise characteristics. This rendering emphasised Gandhi's status as a religious figure. Gandhi was a "great saint" (PN, 15/12/50: 5), perhaps the "Greatest Christian today" (PN, 1/5/37: 5). His lessons embodied "the spirit of Christ" (Jones, 1948: 12). The Gandhian approach represented "the method of the Cross" (PN, 28/4/50: 3), or "the New Testament method against evil" (Hoyland, 1952: 7). Put simply, Satyagraha was a "Christian thing" (Hoyland, 1931: 111). Understood in these terms, Gandhi's techniques lost their distinctiveness. They offered nothing more than the simple message of the carpenter from Galilee. As a result, there was no need to contemplate their direct application in Britain. Christian pacifists were already tilling this ground.

15. These misunderstandings continued to circulate in the public sphere for many decades. They were only corrected in the years after World War Two. At this time, Britain's largest pacifist organisation, the Peace Pledge Union [PPU] became a hotbed of Gandhian discourse. Between 1946 and 1952 the PPU's newspaper, Peace News, published more than 160 articles that were dedicated to the discussion of Gandhi's relevance to the West (see Scalmer, 2002 for details).

16. Perhaps more importantly, the PPU also carved out a special space for the close study of non-violence. It formed a 'Non-violence Commission' in November 1949 (PN, 11/11/49: 3).

17. From January 1950, the Commission met regularly at Dick Sheppard House in London. Here hopeful students struggled to come to grips with Gandhi's methods. As Kathleen Rawlins, a leading member, explained, they "were not trying to teach the PPU non-violence". On the contrary, "accepting one emphasis of the whole pacifist movement", they were "trying to explore that particular aspect of pacifism" (cited in Morris, 1951: 14). Gwyneth Anderson, another member, explained that the Commission focused on "study" and "self-training". The object was "..."direct action" - that is action directed, however feebly, to the real demands of the situation." (PN, 18/8/50: 6)

18. To this end, bookish pacifists shared epigrams and swapped their cribbed notes. A 'travelling file' was compiled for those unable to attend meetings regularly, made up of letters, suggestions, and newspaper cuttings (PN, 19/1/51: 8). Those who could make the trek to central London became entranced by the Mahatma. They studied and reported on Gandhi's non-violent campaigns, and diligently sought to immerse themselves in the literature of the subject (PN, 2/11/51: 5). Over a number of years, the knowledge of Commission members began to grow. Slowly, they began to translate Gandhi's methods into the British environment.

19. Importantly, this translation always emphasised the practical application of Gandhi's ideas. Throughout the first two years of its existence, it was a common practice of the Non-Violence Commission to invite speakers "who ha[d] taken part in non-violence demonstrations" to share their experience and wisdom (PN, 2/11/51: 5). A core of around fifty members heard friends of Gandhi, such as Henry Polak and Mary Barr (Morris, 1951: 7-8). They listened eagerly to veterans of the passive resistance movement in South Africa, and African-American adherents of the non-violent method (e.g., PN, 17/10/52: 6). Vera Brittain recalled her time with Gandhi's successors at the World Pacifist Meeting in India, and Welsh nationalists excitedly relayed their first embrace of non-violent demonstrations (e.g., PN, 2/11/51: 5). The Commission became a site of "brokerage", as proponents of Gandhism traded ideas and histories (on the concept of brokerage, see: McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, 2001; Chabot and Duyvendak, 2002).

20. Leaders of the Non-Violence Commission stressed that their task was to investigate the question of civil disobedience in particular (Morris, 1951: 14-15). As a result, the Commission soon developed into a forum for the discussion of schemes for direct action (PN, 18/8/50: 6), and fresh ideas for non-violent protest, like organised income-tax refusal (anon, 1950: 9). Indeed, this functional group rapidly became what sociologists call an 'abeyance structure', or a 'submerged network' - a place of shared critical discourse, in which the flame of future rebellion is sheltered and fuelled (see Taylor, 1989; Barker, 1999).

21. 'Submerged networks' are primarily places of discussion rather than action. In the case of the Non-Violence Commission, this was true for only a brief time, however. In the early 1950s the political opportunities open to pacifists began, ever slightly, to improve. The British Government's new testing of atomic weapons horrified many of those who had supported the Second World War (PN, 10/10/52: 1). 'Z Reservists' were called up for army service, and widespread opposition energised the peace movement (PN, 23/2/51: 1). At the same time, the left of the Labour Party tilted towards peace, with Aneurin Bevan's resignation over the Government's military expenditure (PN, 4/5/51: 2).

22. It was amid these events that some members of the Non-Violence Commission began to grow impatient with all the talk, and to wonder how it could ever be transformed into action. Ethel A. Lewis, the secretary of the Commission, captured the sentiment best in a letter to Kathleen Rawlins:

I really feel that it is rather useless to merely meet pleasantly at intervals, to talk - waiting vaguely for the day when it might be useful to lay down in the road to demonstrate agst. [sic] "something or other".

I may be wrong, but feel that if the members only joined - say - in a leaflet campaign, at least we should be doing something useful. I deplore this (to me) rather negative attitude, this detached position at which we appear to have arrived.

I should be glad of your reactions to the matter, if you drop me a line, please (Lewis, 1951).

Ethel Lewis did not have long to wait. With the 'translation' of Gandhism well under way, a new phase of experiment and reinvention was about to unfold.


23. Once Gandhi's methods were more fully appreciated, how could they be applied? From the early 1930s, British pacifists had ventured a number of proposals. Among the most notable: pacifists should invade the "drawing-rooms" of the authorities with the force of "passive aggression", and demand signatures on a peace agenda (PN, 8/8/36: 4); a mass hunger-strike of PPU members should be used to compel disarmament (PN, 29/5/37: 10); non-violent volunteers should travel to the continent as tourists and thence offer non-violent resistance against dictatorship (Martin, 1938); and a peace plough should make its way across the iron curtain and into Poland (PN, 1/7/49: 4).

24. However, these plans remained hopelessly vague. It was only in December 1951 that a more detailed proposal for Gandhian action was put forward. At a meeting of the Non-Violence Commission, a new political experiment, 'Operation Gandhi', was first ventured.

25. What was Operation Gandhi? As first imagined, it was a program of direct action - a "non-violent struggle" for Britain. It had four aims:

•  The removal of American forces from Britain;

•  The abandonment of atomic weapons manufacture in Britain;

•  The withdrawal of Britain from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation;

•  The disbandment of the British armed forces.

26. The architect of Operation Gandhi was the assistant-editor of Peace News, Hugh Brock. He argued that those taking part in Operation Gandhi had to be willing to face imprisonment, loss of income and other hardships (Non-Violence Commission, 1951). Somewhat surprisingly, Brock's suggestions were embraced. Those who listened quickly agreed to undertake the project, to meet within the week, and to begin detailed planning (Non-Violence Commission, 1951).

27. But what, precisely, would British Gandhians do? How would they protest? Brock himself had been very short on detail, arguing only that:

A press sub-committee should be formed, and an operations sub-committee should arrange the mechanics and timetable for demonstration (cited in Non-Violence Commission, 1951).

28. Once 'the Operation' met, a wild divergence among would-be demonstrators quickly became apparent. Surviving archival material indicates a range of actions were entertained - protests at Grosvenor Square, Fleet Street, Whitehall, and at suburban Labour Exchanges, among others (Operation Gandhi, n.d.). Three schemes were more seriously contemplated.

29. The first was an invasion of the House of Commons:

Select evening session when appropriate matter is being discussed - trickle one by one to Central Lobby and ask to see our M.P.

No given time (no signal), - as team squats in the passage from the Chamber to the Lobby, produce and display posters - and perhaps sing appropriate hymns.

Remainder to act as observers only.

When, if, first group ejected, and after short interlude for order to be restored, next group take up position and proceed as before. Meantime a further group - perhaps number of further groups, will arrive at House, by bus - having previously timed journey from a number of surrounding fire-off points - and will come into Lobby seeking M.P.s - and then follow as before...

Police to be told only that Operation Gandhi will visit on that particular evening (Operation Gandhi, n.d.).

30. A second visualised a similar kind of shocking display, to be staged in a popular London church:

Attend morning service and take part fully in it. At end of service squat in main exit, display appropriate posters, singing suitable hymns, handing out leaflets.

Leaflet distributors in vicinity to go into action (well dispersed beforehand) when they see congregation begin to emerge (0peration Gandhi, n.d.b).

31. At the same time, Alex Comfort suggested a supplementary plan for agit-prop, entitled 'Umbrella Man', which involved theatrical displays of umbrellas, stickers and pickets all over London (Comfort, n.d.).

32. As forms of 'political gimmick' or media display, none of these schemes could be faulted (for more on this concept, see Scalmer, 2002b). However, their specifically Gandhian credentials were more seriously questionable. Although Hugh Brock praised the Umbrella Man scheme (Brock, 1951), others were less easily impressed. A leading member of the Non-Violence Commission, Gwyneth Anderson was highly suspicious of Alex Comfort, and counselled wariness (Anderson, 1952).

33. Kathleen Rawlins also raised a number of concerns. First, she worried about the participation of communists - "already working for the same objectives and by different means" (Non-Violence Commission, 1952). Second, she emphasised that "public opinion" was in favour of defence, security, and the fearful grinding of the war machine. As a result, any action needed to be accompanied by a "simple leaflet", outlining the methods and aims of the protesters (Non-Violence Commission, 1951).

34. Others agreed, and the original plans presented by Brock were now considerably altered. The four initial objectives of 'Operation Gandhi' were quietly dropped. Quickly, the drafting of the inaugural Operation Gandhi leaflet began.

35. The drafting of a common leaflet rapidly became a gigantic exercise in consensus-formation. In meeting after meeting, there was deep philosophical and practical discussion (Brock, 1951). An unpublished, unattributed history of the early days of the group remembers the process well:

Meetings...were stepped up to about twice a week with daily consultation between the four or five members who were drawing up the leaflet which would be distributed during the demonstration.

Whole evenings were given up to the discussion of the leaflet and planning of the timetable of the action. A draft Kathleen Rawlins was remoulded by Alex Comfort. The renovated draft was cut to pieces by Kathleen and criticised by everybody else. One sentence would be upheld by some members of the group and objected to by others. The printer had to reset almost half the leaflet after we had given him what we thought was a final draft (Operation Gandhi, n.d.).

36. What did these excited pacifists hope to communicate of 'Operation Gandhi'? Kathleen Rawlins initial contribution established the first answer. As she saw it, the leaflet could only properly arouse one emotion. That emotion should be shame . 'Every Englishman' needed to be shamed out of quiescence and into the streets:


If the decision is taken to use these weapons, your consent and mine will not be asked.

(cited in Rawlins, 1951).

37. Suffering and shame are frequent bedfellows. For Rawlins, the willingness of pacifists to suffer also needed emphasis:

We try to ACT on the teaching of Jesus and Gandhi that men must be willing to suffer but not to hate or hurt each other (cited in Rawlins, 1951).

38. Such suffering served a practical purpose - it allowed for the conversion of others. Suffering produced shame in the observer, and therefore change:

If we are arrested, we shall not pay fines! If we are imprisoned we shall be thankful, because our imprisonment may win YOUR understanding and support for the cause. (cited in Rawlins, 1951)

39. The likeness to the concept of 'moral jujitsu' developed in Richard Gregg's Power of Non-Violence is easy to detect (Gregg, 1960). British Gandhians were on their own, distinctive journey, though. As Rawlins' initial draft was reread and remade, so a new consensus around a British version of Gandhism was hammered into shape. The drafting and redrafting of the leaflet produced a more sensitive and collective sense of Gandhism than had existed before.

40. By early January, agreement had been reached. Operation Gandhi came to agree on the essence of Gandhism-in-action. For this small, now-united group, it lay in the making of an appeal to conscience . The "conscience of the British people" became the group's fundamental target (PN, 18/1/52: 3).

41. This was an ethical appeal. As such, it required high ethical standards among the protesters. Members of the 'Operation Gandhi' experiment now came to agree that three elements of "Gandhi's method" were therefore crucial:

•  Open strategies of organisation, with preliminary notification of any protest actions given to police and official authorities.

•  Complete personal non-violence of behaviour.

•  Willingness to accept legal penalties for action "knowing that the suffering of these penalties is our best means of persuasion" (cited in: PN, 18/1/52: 1).

42. As a result, the schemes for the House of Commons and Church invasion were now rejected. So was a plan for pacifists to form a bus queue near the War Office in Central London, only sprinting into a sit-down position when Big Ben struck twelve (Operation Gandhi, n.d.).

43. At the same time, the group's four original aims became one. A new coherence was evident:

Operation Gandhi is a group of pacifists who want to secure the acceptance by the people of Britain of non-violent resistance as the right and honourable course for the defence of their country.

That is our specific objective (Operation Gandhi, n.d.c: 1).

44. The first practical demonstration was organised soon afterwards, in January 1952. This protest adhered to all of the group's new wisdom.   Eleven members of Operation Gandhi squatted on the steps of the War Office in London. Police were fully notified. Participants did not resist arrest, and they pled guilty to charges of obstruction and obstructing police. Complete non-violence was evident in both word and deed (PN , 18/1/52: 1).

45. Further actions followed rapidly. The newly-drafted leaflet drew praise from non-participants (Glaister, 1952), and the confidence and energy of members lifted appreciably (PN, 25/1/52: 4). Similar protests were held at the Aldermaston nuclear reactor (PN, 21/3/52: 8;PN, 2/10/53: 1), the U.S. base at Mildenhall Aerodrome (PN, 4/7/52: 5), the Porton microbiological research facility (PN, 5/3/54: 6), and Harwell atomic energy plant (PN, 24/4/53: 1), among many others. With its name changed to the 'Non-Violent Resistance Group', [4] the same basic cluster of activists expressed demonstrative support for the passive resistance movement in South Africa (PN, 3/10/52: 4), and took Gandhian performances to regional centres like Ilford and Colchester (PN, 29/10/54: 6). Suddenly, the wide-ranging use of 'Gandhism' seemed possible.

Application and Transformation

46. 'Operation Gandhi' brought disciplined non-violent protest to Britain. Soon, however, unaffiliated citizens were also applying Gandhi's methods in new and idiosyncratic ways. Individuals started lone pickets of army bases (PN, 30/10/53: 3), 'war' movies, such as the Dam Busters (PN, 23/9/55: 3), military tattoos (PN, 4/6/54: 3), and civil defence displays (PN, 17/7/54: 5). One pacifist refused to pay her dog license as a protest against the Government's war policy (PN, 26/10/56: 8); another walked through England and Wales in a Gandhian attempt to raise funds for Indian villages (PN, 1/6/56: 1). In 1956 Ipswich pacifists even began to adopt non-violence in an attempt to break down local forms of racial segregation (PN, 17/2/56: 1-2;PN, 24/2/56: 6).

47. By the later 1950s, the application of non-violence was extending even further. As alarm about nuclear weapons spread widely, so Gandhi's political tools beckoned in the battle for peace. Harold Steele visited the 'Gandhi Shrine' on his way to stop nuclear testing at Christmas Island (PN, 17/5/57: 7). In late 1957, veterans of Operation Gandhi joined up with younger radicals to form the 'Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War' (DAC). [5] The new organisation led non-violent protests at rocket bases and military installations around the U.K., including Swaffham, Harrington, Foulness, Finingley and Holy Loch.

48. Perhaps more importantly, it was also the DAC that proposed the first anti-nuclear march to the Aldermaston nuclear reactor, just outside London. [6] The Aldermaston march was rapidly backed by a larger and more moderate institution, the 'Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament' (CND). In 1958 it was baptised with success.

49. From its first steps, the Aldermaston march attracted the previously apolitical (Gardiner, 1958: 8). A peak of six thousand participated in the original march (Times, 5/4/58: 6). Students mixed with bank clerks; West Indians with Welshmen (Gardiner, 1958b: 6). This was widely seen as a "new development" in contemporary politics (Soper, 1958: 6-7). Marchers were entertained by skiffle-groups and dancers; they dressed in bright scarves and beribboned hats (Jones, 1958: 7). Their "calm and sober bearing" put onlookers to silence (Coltman, 1958: 90). As Mervyn Jones noted, this was an event animated by a peaceful, loving, and dissenting spirit:

[T]his is a campaign that urges people to reflect, not to destroy; to march a silent mile, not to shout; to dissent, not to obey; to be themselves, not to take sides; to love, not to hate; to live and let others live, not to kill or die (Jones, 1958b: 199).

50. Jones was sure that the march was different to "any other demonstration I have known". In 1959 it attracted even greater numbers. This time the march set out from Aldermaston and terminated in London. At least 30,000 gathered in Trafalgar Square (Times, 31/3/59: 4). By the early 1960s, it was clear that Aldermaston was a major event. Some socialists admitted that it now outranked May Day (anon, 1962: 1). A year later, it was openly described as an "annual pilgrimage" (Brewood, 1963). By 1964 the name 'Aldermaston' suggested a political movement for peace, not a place devoted to the perfection of atomic weapons (anon, 1964: 6). Indeed, it had become an important symbol of the presence of a 'New Left' in British cultural and political life (e.g., see Smith, 1958: 114; Thompson, 1960: 288).

51. The growing popularity of Aldermaston expressed the more general acceptance of theatrical and challenging forms of political action. Beginning in 1961, a new organisation, the 'Committee of 100', organised mass civil disobedience in Central London. Whereas the Direct Action Committee had attracted scores, the Committee of 100 quickly attracted hundreds of participants (Times, 1/5/61, p.6). Its 'sit-down demonstration' of September 1961 brought 12,000 to Trafalgar Square (Times, 18/9/61: 10). The political presence of so many dissenters was thought by authorities to signify "mass resistance" (Times, 13/9/61, p.5), and the 'sit-down' soon became the object of widespread emulation. As the Committee itself put it in October 1961:

In the 'sit-down' we have devised a useful tactic, which has already this summer been used by trade unions, Tenant's associations, etc., and in several other countries in issues other than nuclear disarmament (Committee of 100, 1961).

52. Non-violence, it seemed, was 'all the rage'. Writing in the British Weekly , Derek Walker contemplated the possibility of 'Satyagraha in St. James Park':

Satyagraha has not been confined to the East...In Britain the Committee for Direct Action Against Nuclear War has staged its demonstrations at rocket bases...But the technique has also been used with little or no organisation for all kinds of reasons. Passengers in London tube trains staged sit downs in protest against bad service...The list is probably far longer than even those who are interested in the subject imagine, for I do not think that anyone has yet attempted to draw it up. And to it there could be added several fascinating "might" have beens (Walker, 1961: 3).

Walker's designation suggests that these actions were obvious members of the Gandhian family. 'Satyagraha' was, famously, Gandhi's favoured term for non-violent political action.

54. Others, however, might be less certain. If members of Operation Gandhi had thought their way towards a 'British Gandhism', those who succeeded them typically lacked such experience. As 'non-violence' spread, so its specifically Gandhian connections were also loosened.

55. Many new recruits to the campaign against nuclear weapons were unconvinced by the virtues of openness (Carter, 1961). For them, secrecy was a tactical priority (CND, 1960). Some activists wondered whether non-violent action was sufficiently revolutionary (Murray, 1960). Others developed plans for "mass civil disobedience" without a clear understanding of non-violent traditions. April Carter, a veteran of the Direct Action Committee, noted these developments as early as September 1960:

This problem is facing us here in England just now with [the] development of move toward mass civil disobedience by a number of individuals who don't believe in n.v. [non-violence] in Satyagraha terms...all sorts of ideas have been thrown up and abandoned and the whole thing is an unholy muddle (Carter, 1960).

56. True, 'mass' civil disobedience promised to apply Gandhism more widely, and, in Carter's words "to break d.a. [direct action] right out of the pacifist "rut"." But, at the same time, it also involved "inevitable risks", as a "small n.v. [non-violent] movement" became a "large one" (Carter, 1960). While the protests of the early 60s did draw greater numbers, they also diverged with increasing speed from the 'Gandhian' practice of the early 50s.

57. The application of 'non-violence' on a wide scale brought new problems. In a mass movement, tensions arose between the committed Gandhians (who believed in "total" non-violence), and the non-pacifists (who understood non-violence as a "tactical" expedient) (Committee of 100, 1962). Younger radicals were angered by the violence of police, and began to react against them (for example at demonstrations in support of Greek democracy - see anon, 1963: 4). There were reports of "swaying, jeering crowds", that "shouted insults at police" (Times, 18/9/61: 10). New concepts, like "non-violent pushing" (Cadogan, 1963: 11) challenged the old philosophy of Satyagraha. Soon, explicitly violent strategies were up for debate. By the middle 1960s, many impatient radicals had set upon a new path:

We have tried non-violent civil disobedience and direct action to a point where the law of diminishing returns makes a demonstration almost more damaging to us than to the state... Sabotage could be the answer. It would indeed mean danger, conspiracy and anonymity, but it would be effective...The resultant publicity would inevitably create and harden some hostility, but it would also make many more people begin to think about WHY we were doing it, in the same way sabotage by the Suffragettes, the Irish and Africans, led many people first to consider, then to espouse the causes of the saboteurs (Ulysses, 1964).

Clearly, this was not non-violence of any recognisable form. The children of 'Operation Gandhi' had strayed far from their parents.

58. Here, the undulations of British politics connect up with a wider story. Indeed, the history of the Western Left in the 1960s is largely the story of the abandonment of non-violence for more 'radical', 'revolutionary', and violent poses. The pantheon of the later 60s was dominated by Che Guevara and Vladimir Illich Lenin; Paris '68 succeeded Aldermaston '58. Ho Chi Minh was preferred to Gandhi. Soon, Satyagraha seemed a creature of the past.

59. Radical historians have largely shared this view. As a result, the importance of non-violent activism is only beginning to attain proper attention. Until now, the contribution of Gandhism to the British New Left has never been properly documented. Half a century after such fascinating events, what can we learn from this intriguing attempt to 'globalise' the teachings and methods of Mohandas K. Gandhi?

60. The globalisation of Gandhi offers many lessons to contemporary students of global and radical politics. First, 'global diffusion' is not at all novel; it greatly predates the 'anti-capital' or 'anti-globalisation' movement of the last few years. Second, the process of global diffusion is not at all automatic (the view of Tarrow, 1998: 103), but is actually the outcome of a skilled labour of translation and reinvention. Third, it is a creative process. Gandhism was remade, not copied. Fourth, the 'Gandhism' produced by British pacifists was both portable and malleable. Non-violence inspired by Gandhi passed across the polity and energised social movements of many kinds. However, this process produced new kinds of collective performance, with only a very limited connection to Satyagraha. If they rested upon a previous history of experiment with non-violence, their specific form bore little resemblance to the acts of either Gandhi or of 'British Gandhians'. The rub of collective interaction coarsened non-violent political routines; principles gave way to tactics. As new forms of violence promised excitement and dynamism, so the old performances were quickly forgotten.

61. Does this mean that 'non-violence' is best practiced by small groups of dedicated activists? Or can it become a tool of mass politics? How can the committed possibly work together with the expedient? Can non-violence be maintained over a cycle of protest, or is it inevitably displaced by the throb of collective passions? These were questions faced by Gandhi eight decades ago (e.g,, Gandhi, cited in Iyer, 1987: 93-5). They remain to trouble, to confound, and to push us toward our own experiments today.


Sean Scalmer is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University. He has written two books on social movements: Dissent Events (2002) and (with Sarah Maddison) Activist Wisdom (UNSW Press, 2006). 'What If?', a volume of counterfactual essays on Australian history that he edited with Stuart Macintyre, will be published in 2006.


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1. Fox focuses on the translation of Gandhi's ideas to the USA, but his concepts are still useful for students of British pacifism.

2. The term 'Satyagraha' was coined (in a competition organised by Gandhi) as an alternative to 'passive resistance'. It has been variously rendered in English as 'soul force', 'holding fast to truth', non-violent resistance, and non-violent direct action.

3. It should be noted that Fisher was critical of this view.

4. The change did not reflect a growing distance from Gandhi, but the belief of Gandhi's family and closest friends that his name should not be associated directly with any political organisation.

5. Hugh Brock and Michael Randle, both veterans of Operation Gandhi, were the driving forces (together with April Carter and Pat Arrowsmith) behind the DAC.

6. From 1959, the march was reversed, so that it took off from Aldermaston and ended in London.

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