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the Nuremberg trials the following principle was put into practice: The moral responsibility of an individual cannot be superseded by the laws of the state.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

“UP situation extremely bad, govt hiding data”

India is battling the second wave of Covid-19 and infections are spreading into the interiors of the country, says Dr Anurag Bhadouria, National Spokesperson, Samajwadi Party. It is precipitated by the elections in five states, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and also panchayat elections in many states, he says

CoWIN to have new security feature from Saturday

The CoWIN system, the overarching digital platform for citizens seeking appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine, is introducing a new four-digit security code” in the application from Saturday to minimise a peculiar error and subsequent inconvenience to citizens. “It has been notic

Learn from Mumbai model to manage oxygen supply: supreme court

Mumbai, once the epicentre of the pandemic in India, has emerged as a model for all others in mitigating the crisis. The supreme court on Wednesday said the central government should adopt and take lessons from the Mumbai model to manage liquid medical oxygen supply for Covid-19 patients in Delhi.

‘What do they know of history who only history know?’

A Functioning Anarchy? Essays For Ramachandra Guha Edited by Srinath Raghavan and Nandini Sundar Penguin Random House India / 392 pages / Rs 650 In a long and versatile career spanning thirty-five years, Ramachandra Guha has prod

BMC commissioner urges Mumbaikars to come forward for testing

To take preventive steps early and save lives, BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal has urged citizens to come forward and get themselves tested.   Mumbai has seen a dip in Covid-19 cases in the last few days after an unprecedented increase in cases s

India records over 3 lakh recoveries, fresh cases down

India reported 3,68,147 new cases on Monday, a number lower than the 4 lakh-plus recorded in the weekend. Also, more than 29.16 crore Covid tests were conducted across the country. As many as 29,16,47,037 have been conducted as on date. India’s cumulative recoveries now stand

Masterminds Masterclass with Rajniesh Duggall on Acting & Modeling



Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter