Nonviolent Resistance a global History 1830-2000



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Week 6. Reading week.


Week 7. Satyagraha and ‘Nonviolence’: Gandhi in South Africa

In this week we shall examine Gandhi’s first campaign in South Africa, the relationship between it and European traditions of passive resistance, and the extent to which Gandhi built on existing Indian traditions of nonviolence and resistance? Gandhi later contended that he had created a new form of struggle, which he called ‘satyagraha’ and, later on, he coined a new term in English - ‘nonviolence’ to describe what he was trying to achieve. This was a direct translation of the ancient Indian term ‘ahimsa’. To what extent can we say that he was in fact creating something very new?

Core reading:


  • Ronald Duncan (ed.), Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Part III, ‘The practice of satyagraha’, pp. 65-99.

  • David Hardiman, Gandhi in His Time and Ours, chapter 3, pp. 39-65.

  • Claude Markovits, The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma, chapter 8, ‘Gandhi and Non-Violence’, pp. 146-61

Questions for discussion:



  • How does satyagraha differ from other forms of nonviolent resistance?

  • Why did Gandhi reject the label ‘passive resistance’?

  • Was it primarily a western technique that was Indianised, or rather an India technique that was valorised by Gandhi through reference to certain western thinkers?

  • What aspects of the society and culture of South Africa were particularly important in the formation of Gandhi’s idea of satyagraha?

  • How effective is self-sacrifice in nonviolent resistance? Is it most effective in an Indian rather than western context?

Further reading:


Indian traditions of nonviolent resistance

  • A.L. Basham, ‘Traditional Influences on the Thought of Mahatma Gandhi,’ in R. Kumar (ed.), Essays on Gandhian Politics.

  • Aurobindo, ‘The Doctrine of Passive Resistance’, in Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram: Early Political Writings. Argument by a contemporary nationalist for the need to use civil disobedience against the British rather than force. D. Hardiman has a photocopy.

  • Dharampal, Civil disobedience and Indian tradition with some early nineteenth century documents. Sets out details of protests in north India in early British period. Not available in Warwick library – ask David Hardiman if you require it, as he has a photocopy.

  • Howard Spodek, ‘On the Origins of Gandhi’s Political Methodology,’ Journal of Asian Studies, 30, 1971, pp.361-72.


Gandhi in South Africa and the origins of Satyagraha

  • Obtain any good biography of Gandhi and read the sections on South Africa.

  • Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence

  • William Borman, Gandhi and Non-Violence

  • Judith Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope. A recent scholarly account of Gandhi’s political career.

  • Judith M. Brown and Anthony Parel (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi (Cambridge 2011)

  • Ronald Duncan (ed.), Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Part II, ‘The Gita and Satyagraha’, pp. 40-64

  • M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, or the Story of my Experiments with Truth.

  • M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, (see chapters 11-13 for the ‘invention’ of satyagraha)

  • M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and other writings, (esp. chapters 14 & 15)

  • M.K. Gandhi, ‘On Satyagraha’, in Robert L. Holmes and Barry L. Gan, Nonviolence in Theory and Practice

  • Jonathan Hyslop, “Gandhi, Mandela and the African Modern” in A. Mbembe and S. Nuttall (eds.), Johannesburg – The Elusive Metropolis

  • Jonathan Hyslop, ‘Gandhi 1869-1915: The transnational emergence of a public figure’, in Judith M. Brown and Anthony Parel (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi

  • H.J.N. Horsburg, Non-violence and Aggression (esp. chapter 3)

  • Steven Duncan Huxley, Constitutionalist Insurgency in Finland: Finnish “Passive Resistance” against Russification as a Case of Nonmilitary Struggle in the European Resistance Tradition, Chapter 2 (available only in photocopied version from David Hardiman). Provides an important critical examination of the relationship between ‘passive resistance’ and ‘satyagraha’.

  • Raghavan Iyer, The moral and political writings of Mahatma Gandhi, 3 volumes. See in particular vol.3, Non-violent resistance and social transformation. Gandhi’s ideas, in his own words, are set out subject by subject.

  • Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy

  • Bhikhu Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse

  • Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi

  • Bhikhu Parekh, ‘Strengths and Weaknesses of Gandhi’s Concept of Nonviolence’, in Michael Randle (ed.), Challenge to Nonviolence

  • Paul Power, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 7:3, 1969. Argues that Gandhi adopted a racist approach when he protested that Indian were being treated like Africans.

  • Krishnalal Shridharni, War without Violence

  • Ronald J. Terchek, Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy, chapter 6, ppp.179-228.

  • Thomas Weber, ‘The Lesson from the Disciples: Is there a Contradiction in Gandhi’s Philosophy of Action?’ Modern Asian Studies, 28, 1994.

  • Thomas Weber, ‘Gandhian Philosophy, Conflict Resolution Theory and Practical Approaches to Negotiation,’ Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 38, No. 4, July 2001.

  • Thomas Weber, Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor


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