Mao and Gandhi: Comparing Two Giants

EDITORIAL, 25 Dec 2023

#828 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

25 Dec 2023 – Last October, we had two important anniversary messages.

One came through loud and clear in the Western media: anniversary of the triumph of the Chinese Revolution, guided by Mao, restoring China to its own people, violently, on October 1.

The other message was considerably more subdued: anniversary of the birth of Gandhi, the Father of the Indian nation, restoring India to its own people, nonviolently, on October 2.

Of course the West focused on China, its military parades, its display of glittering affluence after decades of growth, true to its fascination with violence and economic growth.  Of course, India is also a BRIC country–Brazil-Russia-India-China–to be taken seriously because of high growth and “muscle”.

But this obsession with military and economic power makes the West lose the essence of the two anniversaries, the underlying cultural power and the role it played politically for the two huge countries emerging from Western imperialism almost at the same time, 1947 for India, 1949 for China. Like the birth of the countries, the death came to Gandhi and Mao almost at the same age: 78 for Gandhi, 82 for Mao.

Like Chávez and Castro, Gandhi and Mao indeed had one thing in common: anti-imperialism, with anti-colonialism as one variety.  Just imagine that the West had used the past week to reflect on that, and on the disasters brought upon the two countries in the 19th century!

But Chávez and Castro have basic discrepancies: mixed economy, democracy with general voting and Christianity (Jesus lived among the poor!) as against state ownership, dictatorship and atheism.

So was Gandhi’s Hinduism very different from Mao’s Chinese atheism; India is formally a multi-party national election democracy, China is not; and the Indian economy is privatized, the Chinese economy is mixed.

And violence-nonviolence. But there are deep similarities.

They both rooted basic social change in the common person.  Change was meaningless unless as a positive change for people at the bottom, not just a circulation of elites, maybe with change of color, keeping everything else the same, like so often under decolonization.  China has been more successful in this than India, but then China implemented maoism and India did not implement gandhism.

In practice, in both countries, that meant not only improving the lot of the peasant, but that peasants were key carriers of the struggle.  Had they been Western marxists they would have waited for an industrial proletariat to be big enough; they did not.  Had they been Western liberals they would have gambled on the elite, those with a university degree and-or capital. They did not do that either.

Struggle presupposes solid empirical groundwork.  Idealists in their hearts, they were also realists in their brains; they wanted to know exactly in which empirical reality their peoples were living.

They both shared the conditions of the underprivileged, Gandhi more than Mao, but Mao also did for long periods.  Both saw that as conditions for speaking and acting in the name of the people.  No doubt they both knew very well what they were talking about, as opposed to leaders with only middle and upper class experience.

They used gentle persuasion of peasants, not force.  And the best persuasion for very pragmatic peasants was by example, Gandhi’s sarvodaya villages and Mao practicing land reform in liberated areas; not waiting for 15 August 1947 and 1 October 1949.  Gandhi’s “Be the future you want to see” applied to them both.

They both wanted active participation by the people in the struggle, as subjects, not objects used as means or only as grateful recipients.  So they organized mass movements, the Congress and the Communist parties, although the “iron law of oligarchy” applied to both of them.  Yet that mass basis still exists, 60+ years later.

They had images of a decentralized society; for Gandhi as the oceanic circles of countless, autonomous sarvodaya villages, for Mao as cooperatives and People’s Communes.  India later adapted language-based federalism whereas China is a federation in the name only, not even respecting local languages.  But in China the commune is still a key unit of development, and the Indian panchayat is also alive.

They were both strong believers in not waiting for “ripe time”, but in acting now, and here, not waiting for somebody else to do so.  What is right is timeless, independent of opportunity.  A society should be changed from within, through endogenous action. Social change cannot be served at the tip of liberation from the outside. Reliance on one’s own forces, only they can carry out the deep revolutionary changes needed; the liberation has to be theirs. Social change from bottom up, not from top or outside down.

And that revolution should be permanent, or intermittent.  There will always be new conflicts or contradictions; struggle is not a single-shot affair.  Swaraj, self-rule, is not only for India but also for oneself, for one’s own development and self-reliance.

So we find Gandhi in opposition against his own party after Indian independence, and Mao (The Gang of Four, And Mao Makes Five!) joining the Cultural Revolution against his own party hierarchy.  China goes through massive change about every 9 years, 1949-1956-1967-1976 Mao’s death to Deng’s Reform 1980-1989-1998-2007. India is less dramatic, there is much ultra-stability, but more will come.

What can we learn from what happened only a generation ago?

That the key problem was us, US, or we, West.  We stood in the way and should be grateful they do not treat us like we treated them.

And, since the liberated Orient is now coming up quickly: learn from these ways of doing politics.  In favor of the excluded masses in our elitist technocracies, our peasants, and they are the majority.


[This Editorial was originally posted on 5 Oct 2009 (#82) but remains as current, insightful and perspicacious today. The first sentence has been adjusted for today’s date. — TMS Editor]

Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International, TRANSCEND Media Service, and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was awarded among others the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries, and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the sole author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. His book, Transcend and Transform, was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Dec 2023.

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One Response to “Mao and Gandhi: Comparing Two Giants”

  1. Hoosen Vawda says:

    Dear Professor Galtung, Greetings for the Festive Season and pray that you are well, healthy and flowing with knowledge, from lesser mortals like my insignificant self. I am indeed privileged and honoured for Professor Galtung to accept this response to your reprinted editorial, which I have not read, nor seen previously, in 2009, as reported by the Honourable Editor, Professor Antonio C. S. Rosa.

    First of all, please allow me, this opportunity to compliment Professor Galtung on highlighting the two giants; Mao and Gandhi, as reformers and re-doctrinating the citizenry of their respective countries from the materialistic propaganda of western imperialism, expansionism and self-important philosophies, which are even operative in 2023. This is also aptly demonstrated, in the present war in Gaza, ceaselessly conducted by the Zionist regime of Israel, since 07th October 2023, in what now emerges as an entrapment and lure set up by Mossad and CIA to entice Hamas to attack Israelis attending a music festival in close proximity to the border with Gaza. This was a well masterminded plot to engage in a strategic ethnic cleansing and genocidal killings of over 20,000 Palestinians, not only in Gaza, but also launch a crusade of terror on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, in the West Bank. However, much has been written about these war crimes, in your Transcend Media Journal and globally, and it is not the intention of this correspondence.

    May I respectfully highlight a few thoughts, which came to mind, after reading your current editorial:

    1. Professor Galtung’s humility and modesty is unparalleled, noting that a “GIANT” is the founder of TMS, in the form of Professor Galtung and yet he calls Gandhi and Mao “GIANTS”, albeit in the context of leading a relatively non-violent and a brutally violent revolutions, against British imperialism in India and China, respectively.
    2. Realistically noting, that both these rebellions were violent. In China, thousands were executed during the socio-political transformation, while in India thousands were killed in the peri-partition period, based on religious differences between Hindu and Muslims, of India, a scourge which is ongoing, even today.
    3. Presently, In India, while the economy has thrived and is surging exponentially, there is a great religious divide between Hindus and Muslims with, the Kashmiris, the Meitei people and general persecution of the Muslim minority in India by the Bhartiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, nationalistic Hindu, government. India has been changed officially into Bharat, to stir up further, Hindu nationalistic fervour.
    4. Another point to note is that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a matter which is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists, as was the assassination of John F. Kennedy by CIA operatives in the United States, in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade
    5. In China, human rights abuses are profound and largely covert. The case of the Uyghurs is a pertinent issue in terms of Human rights violations in China.
    6. Of note, perhaps, if I may respectfully suggest, that Professor Galtung’s list of Giants should now include, Nelson Mandela and Chief Inkosi Albert Luthuli in South Africa, in the REALLY PEACEFUL TRANSITION, TO A TRULY DEMOCRATIC RULE in SOUTH AFRICA, in 1994. This is, while noting that the ethical values espoused by these Giants of Liberation, “by the people for the People of South Africa”, are no longer operative, within the political framework of the ruling Party, in present day South Africa. This was not so in India, nor in China.
    7. In addition, Professor Galtung must be included in the list of Peace Giants for completeness, noting the tremendous and ongoing Peace Philosophies, formulated as a science, based on extensive socio-political research in the past, using the good Professor Galtung’s multiple skills from an academic background, focused on mathematics, sociology and pioneering the interdisciplinary domain of peace studies.
    8. Finally, the time has come, and it is now, for the collective wisdom of giants of Peace like Professor Galtung, to be effected into practice, noting the ever escalating war in Gaza, Occupied Territories, The Bombing of Iranian armed groups, in Iraq, the Bombing of tankers in the Red Sea and Bay of Bengal, the huge escalation of aggression by Ukraine, with the bombing of Feodosia, a port city on the Black Sea, in Crimea, the festering conflict in Gilgit and Baltistan, as well as the drug wars in Afghanistan, the destruction of forests in Latin America by drug cartels, the shootings in Nigeria and Prague, the ongoing civil war in Sudan, a device exploding near the Israel embassy in New Delhi, India today, the killing of a senior, high ranking, Iranian General in the neighbourhood of Damascus, by Israel, on 25th December, and numerous other conflict hotspots, as well as military association and support from United States, Britain and European Union, creating billions in profits for the western military industrial giants, resulting in a win-win situation for these orchestrators and perpetuators of regional warfare.
    9. These hostilities will certainly escalate further in 2024, if not curtailed. The progress of the hostilities, at the present rate of daily escalation, with intense collective Western, military support, could even develop into a fully-fledged world war. We continue to pray that may the Lord dispenses guidance to these miscreants and Peace Disruptors, as well as effect restoration of sustained Global Peace.

    May I take this opportunity to wish Professor Galtung and his family continued, excellent, healthy, happy and a productive 2024 with fortitude, peace and goodness.

    Tuesday, 26th December 2023

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