Great Souls

TCT interrupts its usual fare to announce the arrival of this marvelous new book by our friend Niranjan Ramakrishnan:

nr book

The price is steep, but I can assure you the author is as substantial and original on this topic as anybody could be. His parents were involved in the Quit India movement, and actually met Gandhi.  He himself is a Gandhi scholar, and a penetrating social critic.

FWIW, TCT considers the topic of whether nonviolence works better than violence to be right exactly at the center of Socialism 2.0. This book is certainly not limited to that question, but has much to say on it.

6 Replies to “Great Souls”

  1. Although some of the most important books I’ve ever read I learned about at TCT, this one will probably not be at the top of the list for this year. I’ll certainly read it, but not before the problems it is likely to discuss (judging from the blurbs) show a sign of becoming salient –> the whole discussion of means (e.g., violent vs. non-violent) strikes me as secondary and insignificant given that there is no trace of articulation of ends/goals, and even less trace of group consciousness and organization that would actually have to decide on such issues and strategies.

    Gandhi is always a great inspiration, but let’s not forget that he was a leader of people who 1) had petty much nothing left to lose and 2) had a common and very clear enemy.

  2. It’s certainly true that the violence question is hardly on the agenda at this point, and also that we still lack a shared agenda. The other great dilemma, as amply shown by the evaporation of Occupy, is that capitalism doesn’t provide the ready protest targets that the various forms of state-based oppression did. But, again, this book here is about more than just tactics.

  3. It’s important to distinguish between strategy and tactics. ‘Non-violence’ is a tactic, and one that can be decided on and agreed on before any strategic workings come into play. What Marla seems to be talking about is ‘strategy’, and that’s fair enough, but even the tightest strategy can fall apart with a disagreement on tactics. An understanding of the effectiveness of non-violence, I think, can be enormously effective in terms of unifying a possibly effective strategy. Basically what I would suggest to Marla is that a reading and understanding of the tactic of non-violence can be approached independently of a search for the right kind of collective strategy.

  4. Right, good points (and I didn’t mean to discount the issue, just thinking out loud, and obviously I’ll get the book, just like most of the rest in TCT store :)).

    I would imagine that any truly large scale movement would be non-violent. If it is organized well enough, it simply will not have to be violent. That much is clear.

    However, what’s unclear is the scale and scope of changes that can be expected – the “big” non-violent movements of the recent past (e.g. civil rights) ultimately did not demand that much – what minorities (and women) ultimately got as a result of the 1960s upheaval was simply… the right to be abused just as much as everybody else. a net improvement, but not a huge one, and certainly not a system-changing one. And even that could have been violently supressed if it wasn’t for internal elite disagreements and conflicts (e.g. southerners vs. northern property owners in the case of civil rights, agricultural vs. industrial employers in the case of labor legislation etc.).

    On the other hand, all system-changing upheavals in history so far have been quite violent. Thus it seems the question moves away from violence vs. non-violence to attempts to incrementally change things for the better vs. attempting a rational radical transformation. I personally think incrementalism is a pointless waste of time that sucks energy away from real organizing. On the other hand, even if you assume the unlikely scenario that the demos truly achieves a large scale organized movement that directly confronts the current property-based powers, this still assumes that the current power elites will simply surrender their privileges – I don’t think this has ever happened in history, and I’m not saying it can’t, but it is also quite likely that in such circumstances they will be the ones unleashing the violence on the people, rather than any grassroot revolutionaries…

  5. Excellent points, Marla, and well taken. I also despair of the generally ‘reformist’ approach taken within the context of maintaining a systemic status quo.

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