The year 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence. We in Philadelphia will commemorate this important occasion with a year-long celebration of the Indian freedom struggle. One of the oldest living civilizations of the world, the natural progress of India was disrupted when it was colonized and de-industrialized by the British. For two centuries, India suffered humiliation and subjugation at the hands of the West, leading to widespread poverty, famine and illiteracy and the complete dismantling of their cultural institutions. The Indian anticolonial movement was a manifestation of the striving of dark humanity for self-determination, for human dignity and for peace. India won her independence through the commitment and sacrifice of a people that believed in humanity's potential, and in the vision of a world free of exploitation and war. We have much to learn from this rich tradition of struggle, and the people it produced.
The world is changing before our eyes. The US empire, which emerged as the foremost imperial power after the fall of the Soviet Union, is today on the verge of complete collapse. As unprecedented levels of inflation, unemployment and poverty intensifies the domestic crisis, suffering American workers are rising in rebellion against a ruling class that has abandoned the people. A war exhausted western world is questioning the transatlantic economic and military alliances that have thus far safeguarded US hegemony. Central to our times has been the dramatic rise of the Chinese state and economy, its spectacular humanitarian accomplishments exemplified by the eradication of extreme poverty, and its strategic partnership with a strengthened Russia. As China establishes fruitful economic relations with the majority of the world, including many European countries, dollar hegemony hangs by a tenuous thread. The shift in ideological relationships on the world stage was brought into sharp focus by the recent crisis in Ukraine, with the vast majority of coloured humanity refusing to go along with America's war propaganda at the United Nations.
What we are witnessing is the birth of a multi-polar world, one that opens up new possibilities for human uplift and peace, and one that must be defined with a new and substantive freedom and democracy. It is the moral responsibility of each one of us to not only participate wholeheartedly in its becoming, but also to struggle for a peaceful transition, despite the machinations of the West. To understand this epochal moment, and our place in the world to be, we turn to the history of the Indian freedom struggle, and its example of a people's determined and courageous resistance to injustice.
Mahatma Gandhi, the great leader of the Indian freedom struggle, based his political strategy on the ancient philosophical concepts of ahimsa (nonviolence) and satyagraha (insistence on truth). He recognized that active non-compliance with the evils of imperialism and white supremacy, without resorting to violence, was uniquely suited to the program of collective liberation for the Indian masses. He believed in the redemptive and transformative power of love and sacrifice in the struggle for truth and justice. Placing his faith in the will of the people as the true agents of revolutionary change, Gandhi modelled his life on the poorest of the poor. He lived among them, learned from them, and won their implicit trust.
Under Gandhi's leadership, the Indian independence struggle was transformed into a mass movement. Men, women and children from all sections of society participated non-violently in civil disobedience with immense discipline and courage, even as they were met with brutal British repression. This struggle transformed Indian society and imbued it with a new consciousness, a new sense of dignity and honour. It led to a cultural renaissance, with the art, literature and music of these times depicting the hopes and aspirations of suffering humanity in all its beauty and potential for truth and struggle. It produced an intellectual and scholarly tradition rooted in the people, that sought to understand the world with all its contradictions, so that it might be changed.
The Indian freedom struggle must be viewed as a revolution of world historic significance. It catalysed a worldwide movement against colonialism and racism, exemplified by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and the Black freedom struggle in the US. The great Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King Jr. was deeply influenced by Gandhi and hailed non-violent non-cooperation as the most potent political weapon of the oppressed, "the sword that heals". For King, the struggle for racial justice was inseparable from the struggle for peace and hence the struggle against imperialism and war. He fused the teachings of Gandhi with the teachings of the Black Church and called for a revolution of values that would unite people and lead to the creation of a "Beloved Community". He personifies the deep connection between India and Afro-America, a connection that is important to revisit today. In our common struggle for peace, freedom and unity, we root ourselves in the Indian and Black freedom struggles, and the teachings of King and Gandhi.
As a Western imperialism in existential crisis threatens to plunge the world into nuclear war to save itself, we must place ourselves resolutely on the side of peace. In building a peace movement for our times, we must draw upon the Indian and Black traditions. The peace movement in India was the natural continuation of its struggle for freedom. It produced revolutionaries like Romesh Chandra, D. D. Kosambi and E.S Reddy who would dedicate their lives to the service of humanity, and are figures for our times. The Indian peace movement formulated positive peace as not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice, which is a prerequisite for development of human potential to its fullest extent. This was also King's formulation of positive peace.
The Indian state emphasized peaceful coexistence and economic cooperation among nations as the only path forward for the post-colonial world. It sought to build a united front of the oppressed and resolved to liberate the globally deprived from the shackles of illiteracy and poverty. India participated in the Bandung conference of Afro-Asian unity and the Non-Aligned Movement of developing states, which upheld the right of the colored world to determine their own political and economic destinies.
Today we must ask, what does it mean to be free as a people? Political freedom cannot be the end-all in a neo-colonial world which remains economically, culturally and ideologically servile to the West. To safeguard its hegemony, the US ruling class continues to wage economic and military war against humanity, crouched behind the empty rhetoric of freedom and democracy. It uses the westernized elite to prop up its ideology and disrupt the natural democratic processes in every country. It seeks to keep the masses divided along the lines of identity to prevent the emergence of a united front against imperialism and war. The recent attacks on King, on Gandhi and on the Indian anti-colonial movement are nothing but attempts to sever colored humanity from their history and traditions of struggle for peace and freedom.
We must have the courage to stand up for the truth and for history. We must refuse to let western propaganda and lies subvert the will of the people and keep them divided. We must remember that the violent partition of the Indian people was the intended result of the British policy of "divide and rule" . We must recognize that the attacks on Gandhi and King are attacks on the toiling masses who chose their message of peace and unity, and from whom they derived their moral authority.
It is the people who make history, who carry history with them. A celebration of the Indian freedom struggle is a celebration of humanity. We call on all peace-loving people in Philadelphia to join us as we commemorate the Indian freedom struggle and reinterpret its legacy for our times. We call on the youth to join us in studying Gandhi and King as models of struggle and sacrifice we can rebuild our lives on. We call for the revival of an art and music rooted in love for the people, for intellectuals to once again become the voice of the masses, for an education that roots us in our history and liberates our mind to the universal truth. Let us make a renewed commitment to the struggle for peace, freedom and unity, and move forward with great optimism and hope for the future.
The Year is organized by members of the Saturday Free School for Philosophy & Black Liberation, based in the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, in partnership with the Gandhi Global Family.