Gandhi vs Mao: Non-violence vs Violence

Although the China unit has drawn to a close, I would like to return to the exercise where we debated, from Gandhi or Mao’s perspective, the necessity of violence in a revolution.  Speaking of the revolution in India, Gandhi said, “I know that when conscious non-violence becomes general in India swaraj will not be far” (Gandhi packet).  Gandhi believed that the only way to ensure an effective and successful revolution is through a campaign of non-violent protest.  Mao is the antithesis of Gandhi in that he believed war and armed conflict were necessary vehicles to drive a revolution forward.  Mao powerfully wrote, “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another” (Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan).  Gandhi would certainly repudiate this belief, and instead explained that non-violence is crucial to a revolution because, “An oppressor’s efforts will be in vain if we refuse to submit to his tyranny.  Generally, no one will kick me for the mere fun of it.  There must be some deeper reason for his doing so” (Gandhi packet).  Ironically, I believe this quote backfires against Gandhi.  Generally, when there is a tyrant, that tyrant has a specific agenda and/or goals, which can constitute for a “deeper reason.”  Thus, the tyrant will “kick” out if his subjects “refuse to submit.”  Mao echoes this truth when he wrote, “Without using the greatest force, the peasants cannot possibly overthrow the deep-rooted authority of the landlords which has lasted for thousands of years. … To put it bluntly, it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or it otherwise would be impossible to … overthrow the authority of the gentry.  Proper limits have to be exceeded in order to right a wrong, or else the wrong cannot be righted” (Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan).  Basically, Mao believed that the feudal landlords would refuse to give up their land, unless they were forced to through violence.  I agree with Mao; after all, who would give up inordinate wealth and unless threatened by extreme force?  I believe that violence is a necessity in accomplishing a revolution.  What are your opinions?

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3 Responses to Gandhi vs Mao: Non-violence vs Violence

  1. Dr. K says:


    I think would Gandhi might say two things, and I’m curious how you would respond to each of the points. First, he believe that most people are amenable to persuasion. That is, most people have a moral sense that will kick in, when they see people unfairly abused. Second, he thought even if a dictator, or a wealthy elite, benefits from the system, they can’t make it work by themselves. They need their minions (soliders, police, thugs, etc.) to enforce the system. Those enforcers don’t benefit nearly as much from the system, and are the ones who find themselves in the difficult position of having to attack their fellow human beings, who aren’t even fighting back, in the defense of a system which they don’t necessarily benefit from much, and which they don’t necessarily even like that much. In India, Gandhi didn’t need to convince the British to leave so much as convince the Indians to make it impossible, through non-cooperation, for the British to get anything out of India. In the case of China, he doesn’t need to convince the landlords, just all the people around them.

    There’s a dispute here that is both philosophical and practical: for Mao, political power comes from force and violence. For Gandhi, political power comes from cooperation and consent.


  2. Will says:

    Dr. Korfhage, I apologize for the delayed response. I think Gandhi and Mao’s understandings of where power comes from are irreconcilable. On that note, I still stand firm in my belief that Mao’s violence-oriented approach to revolution is a more effective strategy than Gandhi’s satyagraha. Responding to your first question, I think when people become so absorbed in wealth and material gain they become blinded, and their moral psyche deteriorates. The Chinese feudal landlords clearly did not care about the deprave existence of their serfs as they never implemented any reforms to benefit the lives of the serfs. Regarding the idea of non-cooperation, that concept only applies if the ruling class does, in fact, have a moral psyche. As I have previously stated, however, inordinate wealth and power leads to a weakened moral psyche. Thus, ruling classes should have no issue enforcing their dominance through any means possible. I’d also like to point out that in India, the Indians ultimately won their independence because Britain no longer had the resources to assert its control over India. This occurred because of Britain’s involvement in World War II, which had no correlation with the non-cooperation campaign in India. Thus, I stand firm in my belief that violence is the most effective driving force behind a revolution.

  3. cmiller2015 says:

    I have to agree with Will here, from a totally amoral perspective. The results speak for themselves: India was partitioned and violently divided, while China was united under Mao. Dr. Korfhage, when you speak of a dispute both “philosophical and practical”, you bring up the main flaw with Gandhi, which is that his ideas existed mostly in a purely philosophical realm. While the idea of non-violence is great to read and learn about, it really had little to do with what actually happened in India. England could no longer afford to rule over India (due to war, a very violent time indeed), and India was granted independence. Later, while Gandhi tried to teach of non-violence, he failed. Millions died, and Pakistan & India have not as yet reconciled their differences. Gandhi was murdered, killed by the violence he worked to try and prevent. On the other end of the spectrum lies China. After the communists gained power, China remained completely whole. There was no partition, and Mao had accomplished his goal of uniting China as communist. While Gandhi was unable to achieve the goal he set with non-violence, Mao was able to achieve his goal with violence. It’s ironic to note that Gandhi, a non-violent man, was assassinated, while Mao, who advocated violent revolution, died of natural causes.

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