Mao and Gandhi: Two Asians

EDITORIAL, 6 Apr 2015

#370 | Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

Let us start by summarizing. We are looking at six major leaders of forces and movements shaping centuries–Churchill- Hitler-Stalin-Mao-Gandhi-Mandela–comparing, two at a time. We are looking for similarities and dissimilarities. Some of them are out in the open, in their spoken ideologies. But most of them–maybe the most interesting–are hidden to the untrained eye. There are the similarities when they are from the same civilization and the dissimilarities when different– however much they profess to be on the same or very different lines. The six were themselves hardly aware of this factor.

As Churchill, Hitler and Stalin share the Christian-secular civilization; we would expect anti-Semitism, racism, and little hesitation when killing–by war, starvation (the Lord also did it), by revolution, millions–even with enthusiasm. Deeper down there are deductive reasonings from axioms about race and class and a final state: the British Empire, the Aryan Reich, for one thousand years, and socialism on the way to the final stage, communism forever; run from London, Berlin, Moscow. So we got the triangular Second World War with Moscow entering two alliances of convenience.

Enters Mao. He shares the word “communist” with Stalin (they still use it, long after it disappeared in USSR-Russia). But the Chinese civilization leaves its indelible imprint on that concept, giving the word a very different meaning, commune-ism, common-ism, doing things together, cooperating.

Enters Gandhi. An Asian like Mao, but watch out: there is no Asian civilization. There are West, Central, South–Hindu; Gandhi is here!–Southeast, East–Mao is here!–Asia; all very different–and a sixth, North Asia, Russian Orthodox.

As to ideological differences: Mao used mass violence–power was also that which came out the barrel of a gun–Gandhi used mass nonviolence, satyagraha. But watch out again: Mao’s key source of power was normative, his promise of liberating China from the yoke of imperialism, and the common people from the yoke of feudalism. Gandhi promised exactly the same and also saw power as that which comes from the kshatriyah warrior and turned many of them into nonviolent warriors, building on their courage and readiness to sacrifice for the cause. And he added: better violence than cowardice. Mao did not have a military caste to draw upon in the Chinese structure; the military were roving gangs, headed by “warlords”. He made his own, later organized as the People’s Liberation Army.

One changed the military, the other created a military.

Why were the goals so similar? Not because of deep culture but because of not-so-deep structure. China and India had been impoverished and pillaged by the West during the 19th century; colonizing India, imperializing China, indoctrinating themselves and many locals that it was all to their own best interest. Profit-greedy colonialism/imperialism hitched on to the upper layers of feudalism and incipient capitalism. Mao and Gandhi shared with Sun Yatsen and Rabindranat Tagore the nationalism of this is our land, not yours; but their practice embraced their firm identity with those downtrodden by feudalism.

There was a strategic element: this was the overwhelming majority of the downtrodden, the exploited serfs tilling their masters’ land for a small portion of the harvest–and in India still do. And they had similar solutions: the communes for Mao, the sarvodaya villages for Gandhi. The former were more successful than the latter, Mao changed society, Gandhi not.

Why not? For that the two deep cultures may provide an explanation. For Daoism history is an endless succession of holons and dialectics, of never ending forces/counterforces. Nothing is final. Not so in Hinduism even if finality is eons away: Hinduism has a nirvana/liberation concept where everything goes to rest; material energy converted into entropy after N reincarnations. Daoism would accept this as a holon, but immediately search for forces and counterforces–maybe some of them want to go back to material life?

The Daoism in Maoism was the permanent revolution; the nirvana in Gandhism seems to have been his “oceanic circles of sarvodaya villages”, connecting the whole world. Maoism could more easily accommodate new, or old rejuvenated, forces; Gandhism was blind to that possibility, having found the ideal waiting to be born as the real. Very Western, in a sense.

We note that Gandhism went beyond India, Maoism stopped at the borders of China. Hinduism sees itself as universal whereas China sees itself as unique, reacting strongly when movements in India and Nepal refer to themselves as “Maoist”.

Deeper down we sense another difference: the tendency to deduce the ideal from axioms. The two epistemology axioms of Daoism are about process, not about substance: for Gandhi the horizontal caste system in villages, related horizontally, was substantial. For Gandhi not force-counterforce but the unity of humans was the mantra, from which follows horizontality and circles, encompassing all; “oceanic” meaning “universal”. Not so, the Daoists would say, nothing is forever. It was not.

Common structure generated similarities in the giants; deep culture the differences. What remains from both of them is the fight against oppression-exploitation, the search for horizontality, and from Gandhi nonviolent struggle, satyagraha.

Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Apr 2015.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Mao and Gandhi: Two Asians, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

3 Responses to “Mao and Gandhi: Two Asians”

  1. […] This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 April 2015: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Mao and Gandhi: Two Asians […]

  2. […] This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 April 2015: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Mao and Gandhi: Two Asians […]