27 January 2007
Next Tuesday, January 30th, is the fifty ninth anniversary of the day that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi in 1948. Although revered in India as a great soul (Mahatma), he is also known there by the affectionate and respectful title Gandhiji.
He has inspired many in the non-violent direct action (NVDA) movement from Martin Luther King to those who currently are blockading the Faslane nuclear sub-marine base in Scotland every day for a year in opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme.
Such was Gandhi's greatness that Albert Einstein remarked: "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."
I was fascinated when Gordon Brown said recently that he too is inspired by Gandhiji. Why when Brown has advocated globalisation, economic growth, free-market neo-liberalism and war, where Gandhiji promoted local village economies, simplicity of lifestyle and peace?
Brown admitted being inspired by something deeper – in his words Gandhiji's courage, strength of belief, and willpower for a more just and fair order.
But where can any sense of Gandhiji's truth and courage fit with replacing the Trident nuclear system that is a truly monstrous weapon of mass destruction and turning Britain into a war-fighting nation with expanded military spending. These look like being policies of a future Brown government and if Brown's comments about Gandhiji were anything more than crass, media talk, he needs to consider carefully what his truth is.
Such policies will create a New Labour legacy with a long half life – Trident would be with us beyond the mid-century and a War-fighting culture in vision of Mr Blair's recent speech could be with us for generations. Brown has already stated his support to Trident replacement estimated to cost £76 billion, and as Chancellor, he has provided additional funds for war fighting to the tune of at least £5 billion.
Brown should remember that Gandhiji said "Mankind only has to get out of violence through non-violence". For Gandhi's vision is deeper, and embodied in his philosophy of Satyagraha, literally Truth-Force. He sometimes also called it "Love-force" or "Soul-force" saying "… that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy."
Although, a new term introduced by Gandhiji during his South African struggles almost 100 years ago in 1908, Satyagraha is grounded in older spiritual truths from India such as Ahimsa or non-violence. Although Gandhiji saw Satyagraha as a tool for political change his practice of it was based in deeper spiritual concerns, as when he says "All our activities should be centered in Truth. Truth should be the very breath of our life".
As people, we can search for the truth too, and ask "do we need massive militarisation and nuclear weapons?". Every other country in Europe, except one, does not believe that we face an enemy that requires weapons of mass destruction – why do we? Militarism fuels war, as when huge expenditures in military spending in Europe led to instability in the early part of the twentieth century, and the dreadful First World War.
In recent history, Mr Blair even fooled many MPs that we faced an enemy in Saddam with Weapons of Mass Destruction. His recent speech used enemy-obsessed arguments in calling for more defence spending, despite the fact that we already have the second largest military spend worldwide, £64 billion this year or 2.5% of GDP.
I joined the Faslane blockade with some 50 East Anglians in October for two days. Gandhiji's warriorhood was evident in each person who lay down to be arrested – for the truth, and in opposition to militarism and weapons of mass destruction. Over the year, many thousands of such warriors representing a wide range of civil society groups will have expressed their visions for a just and peaceful future.
The government has said that Climate Change is the greatest threat to our security, yet wants to increase the 2.5% GDP military budget, and spend a further £78 billion to be spent on Trident. The Stern review says preventing the worst of climate change will cost 1% GDP, and yet last year's spend on renewable energy research was only £37 million.
Gandhi's Satyagraya Truth Force and his vision of non-violence and sustainability is never needed more to solve our greatest security threat – climate change.
On January 17th 1948, Gandhiji finished his final hunger strike that stopped Hindu and Moslem violence in across Delhi. If he were with us today, fifty nine years later, I think he would be fasting until real climate action took precedence over militarism and military adventure.