You are here

A. 2. Gandhi and Gandhian Campaigns

Volume One -> A. Introduction to Nonviolent Action -> A. 2. Gandhi and Gandhian Campaigns

Gandhi played a crucial role in demonstrating the potential effectiveness of organised nonviolent campaigns, first in South Africa in the struggle of the Indian population against discrimination, and then in the Indian independence movement against the British. He also developed a very specific understanding of the nature and dynamics of nonviolent struggle, which took due account of the coercive nature of mass strikes and civil disobedience but stressed the potential for winning over opponents. This section focuses on Gandhi’s thought and experience and his concept of Satyagraha (‘truth’ or ‘soul’ force).

There is a huge literature by and about Gandhi, and campaigns that he led or influenced, both in South Africa up to 1914 and in India from 1917 to 1948. M.K. Gandhi, Collected Works runs to 90 chronologically arranged volumes and 10 supplementary volumes. Here only a few key sources are listed, including some recent studies and some well known critical assessments. This section also includes references to the Gandhian-inspired resistance on North West Frontier of India (1930-33) led b y Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the ‘Frontier Gandhi’) important as an example of Muslim resistance not widely known.

Banerjee, Mukulika, The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier, Oxford and Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 256

Bondurant, Joan V., Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, [1958], Revised edition, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1969, pp. 271

Analysis of Gandhi’s approach to conflict and struggle and of three of his campaigns in India; the 1918 Ahmedabad textile workers strike; the 1919 resistance to the repressive Rowlatt Bills, and the 1930-31 Salt March.

Brown, Judith M., Gandhi’s Rise to Power: Indian Politics 1915-1922, Cambridge MA, Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp. 382

First of three books by leading Gandhi scholar. Followed by:

Brown, Judith M., Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: The Mahatma In Indian Politics 1928-1934, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 414

Brown, Judith M., Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989, pp. 440

Sympathetic yet objective biography with an emphasis on political tactics and organisation.

Brown, Judith M., The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford, James Currey/Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 464

Brown, Judith M. ; Parel, Anthony, The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 296

Copley, Antony, Gandhi Against the Tide, Oxford, Blackwell, 1987, pp. 118

Brief Historical Association study giving historical context and referring to historiographical debates, noting ‘Cambridge school’ argument that internal weaknesses of the British Administration main cause of independence, and ‘subaltern studies’ school which stresses autonomous resistance of peasants and workers.

Dalton, Dennis, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 279

Analysis of Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, of his political leadership and and of the 1931 Salt Satyagraha and 1947 fast, as well as covering critiques by contemporaries and making comparisons with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Fischer, Louis, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, [1950], London, Granada, 1983, pp. 593

Lively sympathetic biography used as basis for Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film.

Gandhi, Mohandas K.Narayan, Shriman, Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Narayan, Shriman, Ahmedabad, Navajivan, 1968 , 6 volumes

pp. 375, 379-794, 471, 464, 514, 555

Includes Satyagraha in South Africa (vol. 3), as well as Gandhi’s highly personal Autobiography, published 1927 (vols 1-2), important pamphlets such as his translation of Ruskin’s Unto This Last (vol. 4 – influential on Gandhi’s socio-economic thinking), letters on key issues (vol. 5) and speeches on historic occasions (vol. 6).

Guha, Ramachandran, Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World 1914-1948, London, Allen Lane, 2018, pp. 1.104

This is the second volume of massive biography by the eminent contemporary Indian historian re-evaluating Gandhi's life, ideas and role.  It is published at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rehabilitating the far right Hindu nationalists in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (an individual linked to the RSS assassinated Gandhi), and when Gandhi is often vilified. This volume is broadly sympathetic to Gandhi, though not uncritical, and gives weight to the influence of his secretary Mahadev Desai. 

The first, widely praised, volume Gandhi Before India, which covers all of Gandhi’s life to the end of the South African campaign, was published by Penguin Random House in 2015.

See also Guha, Ramachandra, 'Remembering Vaikom satyagraha in the light of Sabarimala', The News Minute, 6 Januray 2019.

Available at,in%20the%20eyes%20of%20god.

Commentary by prominent Indian public intellectual, and author of books on Gandhi, at the time of  the 2019 mass protest by women in Kerala against a Hindu temple refusing to admit them.  Guha responds by recalling the 1924-25 campaign (in which Gandhi played a role) to persuade the Vaikom temple to admit dalits (untouchables).

Hardiman, David, Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of his Ideas, London, Hurst, 2003, pp. 356

Sympathetic, but not uncritical, assessment of Gandhi’s style of politics, his conflicts with the Raj and opposition groups and critics within India, and his impact on later movements. The author studied ‘subaltern’ movements in India for many years before engaging with Gandhi.

Johnson, Richard L., Essential Writings by and about Mahatma Gandhi, Lanham MD, Lexington Books, 2005, pp. 408

Selected key texts from Gandhi with essays by Judith Brown, Richard Falk, Michael Nagler, Glenn Paige, Bhiku Parekh and others.

King, Mary, How South Africa Forced Gandhi to Reckon with Racism and Imperialism, Waging Nonviolence, 01/10/2019,

At a time when Gandhi is being widely criticized (for very different reasons) in India, South Africa and the UK, Mary King sets Gandhi in his historical context and also stresses Gandhi's own willingness to confront his assumptions and prejudices.

See also

King, Mary Elizabeth, Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924-25 Vykom Satyagraha and the Mechanisms of Change, India, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 312

Revisionary analysis of Gandhi’s 608 day campaign to secure right of untouchables to use road by a Brahmin temple, challenging claims in earlier accounts that a solution was reached because the Brahmins were ‘converted’. The author criticises both Gandhi’s belief that self-imposed suffering can convert the opponent and his leadership of this campaign.

Moore Jr., Barrington Jr., The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, London, Allen Lane, 1967

Chapter 6 ‘Democracy in Asia: India and the price of peaceful change’ argues that Gandhi was ‘the spokesman of the Indian peasant and village artisan’ (p. 178) and comments critically on Gandhi’s desire to return to ‘an idealized past’ of the village community purged of untouchability, and failure to challenge interests of landed aristocracy.

Nanda, Bal R., Gandhi and His Critics, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 178

Nanda, who has also written a balanced biography of Gandhi and studies of other Indian leaders close to Gandhi (including Gandhi’s early mentor Gokhale), here examines controversial aspects of Gandhi’s life and thought.

Orwell, George, Reflections on Gandhi, Partisan Review, Vol. 16, issue 1 (January), 1949, pp. 85-92

Reprinted in A Collection of Essays, New York, Harcourt, 1953.

A frequently cited critical review of many aspects of Gandhi’s philosophy and life, which nevertheless recognizes his positive contribution as a politician.

Overy, Bob, Gandhi as a political organiser, In Randle, Challenge to Nonviolence (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), Bradford, University of Bradford, pp. 132-162

A chapter from Overy’s unpublished PhD thesis.

Overy, Bob, Gandhi the Organiser, Sparsñas, Sweden, Irene Publishing, 2019, pp. 436

Through detailed analysis of Gandhi's campaigns from 1915 to 1922 the author illuminates the evolution of Gandhi's thinking and strategy. Overy stresses the importance of Gandhi's constructive programme, promoting local empowerment, and its interconnectedness with resistance campaigns against imperial rule.

Pandiri, Ananda M., A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi, Foreword by Dennis Dalton, Vol. 1, Westport CT, Greenwood Press, 1995, pp. 424

Pandiri, Ananda M., A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 2, Westport CT, Greenwood Press, 2007, pp. 653

Parekh, Bhikhu, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination, Notre Dame IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 284

Political theorist and Gandhi scholar Parekh has also written a brief account of Gandhi’s life and work: Parekh, Bhikhu , Gandhi Oxford, Oxford University Press, , 1997, pp. 111 .

Scalmer, Sean, Gandhi in the West: the Mahatma and the Rise of Radical Protest, Cambridge MA, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 254

Primarily discusses the US civil rights and the British nuclear disarmament movements.

Sharp, Gene, Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power: Three Case Histories, Ahmedabad, Navajivan, 1960, pp. 316

Main focus on 1930-31 independence campaign, but also covers peasant struggle in Chamaparan 1917-18, and Gandhi’s 1948 fast in Delhi against inter-communal killings linked to partition.

Sharp, Gene, Gandhi as Political Strategist, Boston, Porter Sargent, 1980, pp. 384

Tidrick, Kathryn, Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life, [2006], London, Verso, 2013, pp. 380

Scholarly critical biography drawing on 90 volumes of Gandhi’s writings, arguing Gandhi aspired to be a world saviour. Author comments on inaccuracies in Gandhi’s own account of the South African campaigns, and provides incisive analysis of Gandhi’s political role and campaigns in India.

Weber, Thomas, Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 294

Part II discusses various influences on Gandhi, and Part III Gandhi’s influence on Arne Naess (ecology), Johan Galtung (peace research), E.F. Schumacher (economics as if people mattered), and Gene Sharp (nonviolent action as a method).

Woodcock, George, Gandhi, London, Fontana/Collins, 1972, pp. 108

By respected writer on anarchist theory and movements.

See also:

Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), pp.101-12 ‘Indian Independence Campaign -1930-31’, and pp.113-34 ‘The Muslim Pashtun Movement of the North-West Frontier of India -1930-34’ by Mohammad Raqib (also in Stephan, Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements) ).