Revolutionary struggles are traditionally defined by the use of violence as a means to an end; that end being dramatic changes in both the social and political spheres of any given country. From the Revolutionary War that was responsible for the birth of America, to the French and Russian Revolutions, and especially modern, guerilla revolutions in places like China and Cuba, violence played a key role in determining the outcomes. Battles were fought and lives were sacrificed all in the name of revolution and change.
However, defining revolution in this traditional sense dismisses the cases where non-violence is the means to the ends. Revolution is formally defined as a sudden, profound, deliberately provoked crisis about legitimate state power, tending to produce upheaval and change in both the political and social spheres. The formal definition of revolution includes no such provision pertaining to violence. In the case of India, non-violence was the critical factor in determining the outcome of revolution. Mobilized by a charismatic leader, one Mahatma Gandhi, the people of India used non-violence as a weapon against colonialism, a weapon strong enough to defeat at the time arguably the most powerful nation in the world.
Revolutions do not simply arise. Many factors affect the origins of revolution and also affect the means by which the revolutionary struggle will be conducted. Internal factors such as the relationship between the working class and the elites, the role of government in society, the distribution of land, the overall prosperity of the country, and the economic system, among others help determine the ?need? for a revolutionary uprising. External factors play perhaps an even larger role. In the early 20th century, the Gandhi-led Indian revolution set off a wave of anti-colonial revolutionary struggles. The root of these revolutions was found in the fact that a ?superior? country was ruling over a separate people geographically distanced from the ruling country?s political center. Specifically in India, this gave the Indians a sufficient cause for being upset; they wanted independence and self-rule.
In a similar sense, these same factors help to determine the means by which the revolutionary struggle will be conducted. Will the revolutionaries take a violent approach? A non-violent one? A mass-based movement of the peasantry, or an elite-based movement of the aristocracy?
Finally, revolutionary ideology and leadership play perhaps the greatest roles in determining the outcomes of revolution. At the heart of every revolutionary struggle is the desire for change; and change is felt by the individuals that participate in the revolution. Peoples? everyday lives are affected by revolution; ideologies are created and charismatic leadership emerges in the name of the people, in order to heed to their demands and exonerate their suffering. Essentially, this is what revolution is all about: the people. In India, the charismatic leadership of Mohandas Gandhi and his impact on the revolution was felt by everyone who participated in the revolution, whether by choice or simply by fate. From speeches he gave urging people to support kadhi or to ignore the salt tax, to the letters he so graciously responded to almost religiously, regardless of topic, the impact of Gandhi on the people of India is undeniable. His revolution touched nearly all of India?s people, from all walks of life.
But people alone do not encompass the entire revolution, nor does the outcome of a revolutionary struggle depend solely on the will of those that fight for it. In the case of India, internal and external factors independent of direct human intervention played a substantial role in the ultimate success that the revolution later achieved. Similarly, additional factors determined the means by which the revolutionary struggle was conducted; in India?s case, these factors led to a non-violent struggle against colonialism. However, the means, the outcome, and the effects of revolution are meaningless without the combination of all three.
Revolution in general depends on an amalgamation of all three ideas into one initiative that defines the entire revolution; its means, its outcome and its effects. The ultimate success of the revolution in India depended on the integration of internal and external factors, the charismatic leadership of Mohandas Gandhi and the participation of the general population who so ardently followed his word.
By examining internal and external factors, revolutionary struggles become much clearer; shedding light on the means by which the revolution is fought as well as the outcome of the revolution itself. In India, several factors, internal and external, relating to society, politics and the general welfare of the nation, combine to create a revolutionary situation in which non-violence became the primary means for dismantling the old regime.
Britain had ruled over India from the mid-18th century, and did so through a ?divide-and-rule? strategy. Viceroys were sent to maintain control over certain areas of the country, effectively cutting them off from one another, and even going as far as ruling over them with different sets of laws. India was separated through lingual, religious and economic barriers. When the people of India decided they had had enough of the British influence, this made it nearly impossible for them to unite and form a mass movement that encompassed the entire population. Without mass support, India was doomed from the start, as seen in the failure of the Mutiny of 1857, the first real uprising against British rule.
The Indian population attempted to gather widespread support for the first time in 1885 with the inauguration of the first Indian National Congress. According to Jim Masselos, author of Indian Nationalism, the creation of the Congress was the first significant event in forming a national identity in India. Prior to the Congress?s conception, Indian politics consisted mainly of scattered and dispersed regional organizations, bent on dealing with local matters. Congress, in its initial stages, acted rather timidly, as national politics in general were a new phenomenon in India. However, as time passed and leaders such as Allan Octavian Hume - the ?father of the National Congress? ? emerged, so did the stability and confidence of the Congress. Congress began meeting annually to discuss issues of relevance in both social and political spheres. Each year Congress was held in a different location, further emphasizing the nation-wide aims that the Congress had in mind (Masselos).
Britain?s divide-and-rule strategy alone was not enough to force the revolution onto a non-violent course of action. A major factor contributing to Gandhi?s adoption of non-violence as a revolutionary strategy involved an obscure law that made it unlawful for Indians to be armed. This seemingly simple law contributed heavily to Gandhi?s strategy. Without arms, a violent revolutionary uprising was nearly impossible. Gandhi saw that it would be much easier to engage in a non-violent struggle than attempt to unlawfully arm the country with illegal weapons. In order to gain the mass support needed to uproot such an entrenched regime as the British, a different strategy would have to be taken and Gandhi recognized this.
A third factor contributing significantly to the non-violent struggle was India?s reputation as a society and culture strongly rooted in religion. Gandhi recognized this, and as a devout Hindu himself, adopted a strategy founded on non-violence and compromise that was consistent with his religious beliefs as well as the beliefs of many of his countrymen.
While these factors among others contributed to the strategy of the revolution, a final external factor was mostly responsible for the revolutionary struggle. Britain had controlled India as a colony since the mid-18th century, and during the time period between their initial colonization and the first attempts at revolution, India lost much of its national identity, thanks in part to Britain?s divide-and-rule strategy. The de-industrialization of India at the hands of British exploitation in order to hasten their own industrialization also contributed to India?s lack of national character by the late 1800?s. India struggled in the early stages of nationalism to create an identity for itself that would unite the masses. As noted above, the Mutiny of 1857 was narrowly focused, unorganized, and lacked mass-support due to lack of national unity. The creation of the INC was a step in the right direction for India to successfully create a true national character, unique in its own right. However, the progress the INC had made in its first 30 years of existence began to subside and the congress became divided. India was missing a crucial piece that was needed to continue the revolution.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was able to provide the catalyst necessary for a true, mass-based revolutionary struggle. A combination of the factors mentioned previously led Gandhi to believe that non-violence and the creation of national symbols were the best way to mobilize the decidedly disjointed population. Based on previous experiments with Satyagraha (?Truth-Force?) in South Africa and locally in India, Gandhi was able to formulate a strategy of non-violence as a weapon against the British.
Similarly, the same factors that contributed to Gandhi?s association of national symbols contributed to mass-mobilization, the impetus for a non-violent struggle. He introduced national symbols such as Khadi (Indian cloth), and salt to the Indian public as a way of uniting the country in a way that avoided any social, political or religious implications.
The combination of internal and external factors forced India into creating a national movement. The Indian National Congress provided the initial spark needed to launch such a movement, and later Mahatma Gandhi would provide the catalyst that helped the movement mature into the mass-based, non-violent struggle that it became. By integrating the many factors involved, Gandhi?s choice seemed almost inevitable, and in the end, proved to be successful.
Many similar factors that contributed to the rise of non-violence as the primary means of struggle contributed to the ultimate successful outcome of the revolution. As defined by Samuel P. Huntington, India?s revolution followed an ?Eastern? model of revolution. Huntington?s Eastern model depended on an extremely strong regime entrenched for a long period of time as the ruling body. Before the regime could be detached, the revolutionary country must first build its national strength (Huntington 40). This is significant because Gandhi spent a sizeable amount of his energy on creating a national identity through the means mentioned earlier. The fact that his efforts worked to create a national identity was a key to the revolutions success.
Perhaps the single biggest factor in determining the final outcome of the revolution was the onset of World War II. By the late 1930?s, India was gaining momentum in their struggle for independence as they built themselves up as a nation and continued Gandhi?s non-violent strategies. When Britain became bogged down in the second Great War, they began to lose their hold on India at the same time as India was gathering strength. Anti-colonialism began to take hold in Europe and America as well as around the globe. Prior to this time period, western culture deemed it okay, even helpful for a ?superior? power to govern a decidedly ?inferior? people. Much of this thought process can be attributed to Charles Darwin and his natural selection / survival of the fittest theories. Later, Herbert Spencer adapted these theories that Darwin applied to nature, into theories that could be applied to society. ?Social Darwinists,? as they were dubbed, adhered to the concept that it was a nation?s duty to govern the less fortunate. The British felt obliged to rule over India if only for their own good. Such was the thoughts of the times (Kishlansky 802). Only later would this thought process be reversed. India?s success set off a revolutionary wave against imperialism, contributing eventually to the liberation of several nations.
With the advent of WWII, Britain ultimately became stretched beyond its means. The military struggle was taking its toll on the British, who no longer had the support of the Indian people in their ranks (Prior to 1900 and also during WWI, many Indians participated in the British military, and even Gandhi himself had a strong influence in recruiting Indian troops). But Winston Churchill, Gandhi?s old adversary, remained adamant about refusing India any concessions: ? ?I have not become the King?s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire? ? (Arnold 208). However, following the Japanese success in Southeast Asia in 1942, Britain?s hold on India became increasingly weaker with time. Britain desperately needed India for the war effort, and clung tightly to the dwindling support that remained in India: ?The loss of India would have been catastrophic for Britain?s morale and its ability to continue the war in Asia, North Africa and Europe? (Arnold 209). By this time during the war, countries abroad, including the United States and even members of British society became increasingly sympathetic to the Indian cause. Gandhi created a stir in the 1930?s with his Salt Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience movements which gathered worldwide attention.
Combined with the violent retaliation by the British, Gandhi?s movements grew in popularity across the globe. WWII provided the final blow to the British that eventually led to India?s independence in 1947. Britain?s thinly stretched resources and army combined with increasing dissent in both Britain and abroad ultimately led to Britain?s final concession of Indian independence: ?On June 3 1947, Mountbatten announced that the transfer of power would take place by August 15 1947? (Masselos 223).
Several factors contributed to the eventual independence that India experienced, marking the success of a revolution started nearly 60 years earlier. The entrenchment of the British Crown that led to India?s need to build a nation, based on Huntington?s ?Eastern? model was a key factor in determining the revolutions success. Gandhi?s uncanny ability to create such successful national symbols that united the people and at the same time avoided alienating anyone was key to their success. However, the largest factor in the revolutions success remained the onslaught of WWII combined with the weakening of British power and worldwide sympathy gathered across the globe ultimately were the factors responsible for the revolutions success.
Internal and external factors undoubtedly play a critical role in determining both the means of revolution as well as the outcome of revolutionary struggles. However, human interaction ultimately plays the greatest role in any societal struggle, be it revolutionary or otherwise. India?s successful revolution depended on the people that fought for it. The charismatic leadership provided by Mahatma Gandhi provided a catalyst for mass-mobilization. Gandhi is often credited for India?s success at creating an independent nation and oftentimes the role of the common person is overlooked; yet without the masses and ultimately the individual, no revolution can be successful, regardless of the leadership. Gandhi based his movement largely on non-violence and compromise and emphasized the importance of the individual in the struggle for freedom. Gandhi?s adherence to the individual is reflected in his countless speeches, letters and personal journals throughout the revolutionary struggle. By examining these letters, speeches and personal notes, Gandhi?s revolution becomes clearly centered on the individual and his commitment to appeasing the common man at all costs, by personally imposing his ideologies on them through intimate communication.
Often heralded as Gandhi?s most successful non-violent, non-cooperation movement, the Salt Satyagraha of the 1930?s crystallized the myth of Gandhi and solidified his nickname as the ?Mahatma.? The people of India literally lived and died by his advice; Gandhi was well aware of this fact and was eager to do whatever was necessary to help the revolutionary cause, especially from his leadership standpoint. But the period during the Salt Satyagraha in the 1930?s marked an era in which Gandhi?s communication with his followers was critical to the revolutions success. By this point, the movement was gathering huge momentum, and it reverberated around the globe, touching places as distant as America. Nevertheless, Gandhi remained committed to communicating his ideology and advice at all costs.
Gandhi maintained near God-like power over his people during the imperative stages of the revolution. Prior to the Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi laid out specific plans for what was to occur when he gave the final word to begin action: ?they all may regard this as the word from me that all are free and those who are ready are expected to start mass civil disobedience regarding the salt laws, as from 6th April? (Gandhi Vol. 49, Page 3). He later lays out the plans by which the movement is to follow, defining specific courses of action pertaining especially to non-violence. This is merely a prelude to the personal and minutely detailed communication that Gandhi maintained with the people of India.
Gandhi was able to maintain constant communication with those more intimately connected to the leadership of the revolution. Gandhi?s subordinates apparently requested his advice on nearly every subject. Responding to a letter from Narandas Gandhi, ?Bapu,? as he often signs his letters, gives explicit instructions on what to do with everything from money and donations to incoming letters, articles and even luggage, yet at the same time gives no indication of ever feeling bothered by these seemingly trivial queries: ?Send money to Krishnadas as and when he asks for it. You need not consult me so long as he asks for Rs. 100 at a time and the total does not exceed Rs. 1,000. If you yourself feel like asking me, you may do so? (Gandhi Vol. 49, Page 19). Gandhi?s incredible patience and compassion shine through in numerous letters such as this and others.
Many cases exist in which an individual ensconced in the revolution struggle appeals to Bapu for advice on how to contribute individually. One such case involves a woman by the name of Anasuyabehn Sarabhai. She apparently had requested a plan of action from Gandhi of how to further help the cause of revolution. Gandhi?s response echoes his ideology once again, that the revolution is an individual struggle, and its success lies in the hands of those who fight for it: ?Shankerlal and you should carefully study the suggestions I have made to the women and if they appeal to you, take up the work. Do not do it because I have suggested it, but consult your own desire. No work once started must be abandoned afterwards? (Gandhi Vol. 49, Page 69).
Perhaps the greatest insight garnered from Gandhi?s extensive collection of personal letters comes in the form of his strict adherence to his ideologies, at all costs. Numerous letters reflect Gandhi?s ultimate ideology of individual struggle and non-violence; however perhaps none more than a letter addressed again to Narandas Gandhi. Seemingly frustrated by the salt tax, Narandas, in his own way trying to contribute to the revolution, asks about smuggling salt. Gandhi?s response once again echoes his already solidified beliefs: ?We cannot smuggle salt even for committing disobedience of the salt law. How can we employ as a means of satyagraha what is in itself wrong?? (Gandhi Vol. 49, page 70). Regardless of the potential success smuggling may have for the revolution, Gandhi remains strict in his ideology, forbidding any such action. In a letter addressed to Bhai Kantiprasad, Bapu offers advice on how this individual can personally contribute to the revolution: ?If there is nothing else you can do, you should at least do khadi work? (Gandhi Vol. 49, page 14). Gandhi is reinforcing khadi as a symbol of national identity while at the same time offering sound advice on how one particular person can contribute to the revolution.
The effects of India?s revolution on the people who participated in it are surprisingly accessible. Personal concerns of those involved in India?s movement for independence clearly shine through in Gandhi?s countless letters. People of all walks of life, including the commoner right up to Gandhi?s fellow leaders were greatly affected by his ideologies and the revolutionary struggle itself. After examining the letters, tremendous insight is garnered into the real effects the revolution had on the individuals who battled in its name.
Revolutionary struggles arise from intense pressure on all aspects of a society; political tension, economic tension, and general dissatisfaction of the population all contribute to the revolutionary situation. By examining numerous factors involving both internal and external conditions, historians are given a clear indication of how a revolutionary struggle is conducted and ultimately whether or not it is successful. But in my opinion, much more is needed to determine the true means of revolution. Factors themselves do not produce ideologies; they do not fight for a cause, they do not die for a cause. Internal and external factors do in fact play a significant role in determining whether or not a revolution will occur and to some extent the means by which a revolution is conducted. However, it is people who ultimately decide the revolutions fate.
Historians tend to overlook the importance of the individual when analyzing revolution and instead focus too intently on conditions and traditional ?theories? of revolution. Mahatma Gandhi was all too aware of the importance of the individual and based his entire movement on this fact. By adhering to the individuals? concerns, Gandhi was able to create a mass-movement founded on national symbols and individual participation. In the end, Gandhi?s revolution was ultimately successful not due to the numerous internal and external factors surrounding British rule, but instead on the tremendous willpower of his leadership and the individuals who subscribed wholeheartedly to his method and ideologies.