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One hundred and fifty years on from the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, what lessons can we draw today about the way he helped achieve Indian independence?


He was the ‘great soul’, a modest, saintly man whose campaigns of ‘satyagraha’, non-violent civil disobedience, shook what was then the largest Empire in history to its foundations.

他是“伟大的灵魂”,是一个谦虚的圣人,他的“ satyagraha”(非暴力的公民抗议)运动震撼了当时历史上最大的帝国。

Gandhi took on the might of the British Empire with ‘soul-force’ and won. Does that prove that non-violent civil disobedience is always the way to achieve political goals?


While the Hungarian ‘communist’ government of the late 80s was dominated by people who didn’t believe in communism, similarly there were people administering the British Empire in the 1930s who believed less in old-fashioned empire and more in colonial self-rule, albeit in stages. The problem as B.R. Nanda in his biography ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ (as cited in ‘Mahatma Gandhi and his Apostles’ by Ved Mehta), highlights, is that each British reform/concession “tended to become out-of-date by the time it was actually granted.”


It also helped Gandhi’s cause that he was admired greatly in the colonial power.


That die-hard Empire loyalist Winston Churchill may have infamously described him as a “seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir,” but thankfully there were more enlightened views in the British Establishment, and in society at large.


On a visit to Britain in 1931, Gandhi met with Lancashire cotton mill workers, whose jobs had been threatened by the Indian boycott of British cotton goods. “He met and charmed everyone, low or high,” says Roderick Matthews, author of ‘Jinnah vs. Gandhi’.


The international situation was also on Gandhi’s side. The ‘anti-imperialist’ US was keen to see the end of the British Empire, so they could move into its lucrative markets. Britain’s withdrawal from India was expedited due to the financial pressures following World War II and the enormous debt owed to the US.


His enduring influence could be seen in the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, and in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, where Gandhi had also been involved in anti-racist campaigns earlier. Again, these campaigns, for civil rights and against apartheid, succeeded not just because of the methods used but because of who was on the one side and the international situation. White America realised segregation was wrong. Enough white South Africans too came to the same conclusion about apartheid. But it’s worth remembering that apartheid only ended after the Berlin Wall came down, and there was no longer any ‘threat’ of a communist, Soviet unx-allied post-apartheid RSA.


While it would be overly simplistic to say that Gandhism can work anywhere, it would be equally wrong to dismiss what can be achieved by ‘soul-force’, even on what appears to be infertile ground.


“I should think of no person whose undertaking to respect a confidence I should ever have been more ready to accept than his. Measured by human standards, the abrupt cutting short of his life was a tragic deprivation for the country that he loved.” And indeed for the world at large.

“我认为,没有一个人比他更愿意信守诺言。以人类的标准来衡量,他生命的突然结束对他所热爱的国家是一种悲剧性的剥夺。” 对整个世界来说也是如此。