Death of a pragmatist Gandhian

Gene Sharp, the American political scientist, distilled lessons in nonviolence, inspired change around the globe

GN Bureau | February 7, 2018


#history   #peace   #nonviolence   #Gene Sharp   #Mahatma Gandhi   #activism  
 Gene Sharp. Photo courtesy: Albert Einstein Institution
Gene Sharp. Photo courtesy: Albert Einstein Institution

When it comes to nonviolence, Gene Sharp’s influence is arguably next only to Gandhi’s. Sharp, a political scientist who continued his studies on peace and power from the Albert Einstein Institution he founded, died peacefully at his home in Boston on January 28. Though he had recently celebrated his 90th birthday, he had chosen to continue to work rather than retire.

Scholars and activists have for long turned to his writings for explanation and inspiration on peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In recent times, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2004) to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement against economic inequality in the US (2011) were partially credited to his silently incendiary writings.

Right from his early youth, he must have been influenced by the life and thought of Gandhi – his MA thesis, way back in 1951, was on ‘Nonviolence: A Sociological Study’. That year, he also moved from Ohio to New York and continued his Gandhi studies, preparing his first major work in 1953, when he was barely 25. He must have been pleased when it was eventually published by Gandhi’s own Navajivan Publishing House in 1960. The book, ‘Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power’, presents three case studies of nonviolence in action: Champaran 1917-18, the ‘independence campaign’ of 1930-31, and the independence campaign afterwards.

In his foreword, Albert Einstein wrote:

“At the Nuremberg trials the following principle was put into practice: The moral responsibility of an individual cannot be superseded by the laws of the state. May the day come soon when this principle is not merely put into operation in the case of citizens of a vanquished country! Gene Sharp may have drawn the strength to complete his work from the inner struggle these problems have engendered. No attentive reader will be able to ignore its effect.”

The 1950s turned out to be an eventful decade for Sharp. He was jailed for his civil disobedience against conscription for the Korea war. For this move, he found support from many including Einstein. By then, he was also an associate member of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Delhi.

In a career spanning more than half a century, Sharp diligently went on to publish score of books, tracts and pamphlets. In particular, ‘198 Methods of Nonviolent Action’, a veritable playlist of tactics compiled from lesser-known aspect of history, is among his most useful works. (The ‘Methods’ is part of a three-volume magnum opus ‘The Politics of Nonviolent Action’.)

Sharp was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times, and won the Right Livelihood Award in 2012. “Sharp devoted his life to studying nonviolent struggle, deeply researching and documenting its use in human history, analysing how the technique operates cross-culturally, and sharing the results of his research with other scholars, practitioners, organisers, government institutions, and citizens and civil-society groups on every continent. His numerous books and articles on the subject have been translated into more than 50 languages, and are disseminated worldwide,” says the obituary note of the Albert Einstein Institution. “His work continues to inspire and enable people engaged in struggle to wield social power by building on and learning from the experience, results, bravery, and sacrifice of those who have come before them.”

“Drawing on Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi, Sharp’s groundbreaking book, ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy,’ provided the foundations for most nonviolent resistance movements of the last three decades,” Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen said in tribute. “Sharp's work has proven to be invaluable as a source of education and inspiration for the brave individuals tasked with initiating nonviolent revolutions across the world. Sharp’s spirit will live on through the work of every person who labors for a freer world using non-violence as a weapon of resistance.”

Noam Chomsky, a fellow gadfly, in his tribute said, “Gene Sharp made fundamental and original contributions to the theory and practice of non-violence, a contribution of immense significance in an age of brutal violence under the spreading shadow of virtual extermination.”

Chomsky, not exactly a Gandhi fan, is right. Gandhi preached and practised the seemingly impossible nonviolence mode of political resistance during a particularly cruel time of history – with the excesses of colonialism and fascism. Sharp, not a practitioner mostly but a researcher and mentor, was advocating peaceful means in no less violent times, when the state itself was often the biggest source of violence. Yet, over the years, Sharp’s views came to differ from Gandhi’s.

Eminent Gandhi scholar Thomas Weber, for example, writes:

“When he was specifically asked to address the links between Gandhi and nonviolence, Sharp noted that the Mahatma ‘tried to convince people who did not believe in ahimsa [nonviolence] on ethical grounds to adopt nonviolent methods as a practical expedient, a technique that works’. In his foreword to a later edition of ‘War Without Violence’, Krishnalal Shridharani’s 1939 classic study of Gandhi’s satyagraha, Sharp makes it clear that he is much less interested in the extreme religious pacifist and moral arguments approach to nonviolence, which emphasises conversion (that is, arguably, Gandhi’s approach), preferring instead a ‘technique approach’.” [Gandhi Marg, 2006]

Weber prefers to call him “the Clausewitz of Nonviolent Action” – echoing the British journal New Statesman’s description of him as “Machiavelli of Nonviolence”. But the best tribute to Sharp, however, might have come from a Lithuanian defense minister who, going by an anecdote, after reading ‘Civilian-Based Defense’ said:“I would rather have this book than the nuclear bomb.”



 

 

Comments

 

Other News

Night of Shame: How Delhi Police cracked the Dec 16 case

This is an excerpt from `Khaki Files` (published in Ebury Press and Blue Salt by Penguin Random House India, 2019) by Neeraj Kumar, a distinguished IPS officer who retired as Delhi police commissioner in 2013. He narrat

Women’s panel seeks CJI intervention over rape-murder convict’s penalty

The Maharashtra State Commission for Women has urged the chief justice of India to take suo moto action in the matter of the Bombay high court converting to life imprisonment the death sentence of the two persons convicted for the brutal rape and murder of a Pune BPO executive in 2008. Chall

BSE StAR MF achieves 61% share of equity net inflow for November

BSE StAR MF, India`s largest mutual funds distributor platform, is working on ways to transform itself into a unique end-to-end value-based services platform. It has achieved 61% share of equity net inflows (Rs 802.96 crore out of Rs 1311.65 crore) for the month November 2019.   “T

Thackeray keeps home with Shiv Sena, NCP gets finance, Cong revenue

Two weeks after the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) came to power in Maharashtra on November 28 following a month-long political tug of war, chief minister Uddhav Thackerey has announced cabinet portfolios, keeping the home department for his Shiv Sena party, while giving the allies NCP and the Congress finance an

Parliament passes Citizenship amendment bill

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 has been cleared by parliament, as the Upper House on Wednesday passed the legislation that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries. “A landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion an

Lok Sabha passes the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

After a day-long debate which often turned acrimonious, the Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, seeking to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries who have migrated to India.   Prime minister Narendra Modi said he was “delighted&



Archives

Current Issue

Video

CM Nitish’s convoy attacked in Buxar

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter