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Romain Rolland: Gandhi vs Einstein: War must be stopped before it starts


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Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Romain Rolland: Gandhi and the Satanic nature of war


Romain Rolland
From his diary, 1931
Translated by R. A. Francis

I tell Gandhi at some length about the moral and social state of continental Europe, and France in particular. I go back briefly to the period of 1900-1914, to explain the double bankruptcy during and after the war of the so-called realists (the politicians) and the idealists, symbolized by the final failure of both Clemenceau and Wilson – hence the bitter disillusionment of the following generations. I show him the true hidden face of politics, which we began to suspect only about the middle of the war: Money, the great adventurers and industrial tycoons (Zaharoff, Deterding), the international trusts and cartels, – and their daily growing supremacy over the nation states, and over public opinion through the press which they control. I give some of the more striking examples: the Comite des Forges, the Briey affair during the war, the steelworks, the oil and petrol companies, the Hugenberg-Reynaud negotiations, the worst kind of war-mongering nationalism stimulated and made drunk by business internationalism. I consider what form of opposition may today be set up against this cancer, gnawing at the West and America, and seeking to eat away the rest of the world. The democracies have no means of defending themselves: Money has corrupted them to the core, bribed, divided and emasculated them…


(Quoting Gandhi) “The problems you have placed before me are terrible. Whereas non-violence is effective and will continue to be so in India, it may well be that in Europe it will fail. But this does not embarrass me. I believe non-violence has a universal application. But I do not believe that I myself can give this message to Europe…I have spoken with many sincere Englishmen, and foreigners too, and I say to them: You must not budge an inch if you do not have faith within you. But I should still believe even if the whole world did not believe. After having seen the difficulties, after yesterday’s conversation, it remains my faith that non-violence alone can save Europe. Otherwise all is lost…From what I have seen of Europe, I believe that Europe cannot avoid the need for non-violence. Luckily no extensive organization is necessary; all that is required is one man who will be faith and non-violence incarnate. Until that man appears you must wait, hope and prepare the atmosphere.”


England is a privileged country. The situation is different elsewhere. But there is one more danger in Europe and America, in the existence of a middle class living at the expense of the oppressed peoples of other nations. After the victory, we were told in France that “Germany will pay”. Now all the peoples of the West are being told: “The world – Asia and Africa – will pay.” Armies of coloured men are being trained for the coming wars. We are returning to the system of the Roman Empire with its privileged people, who unloaded all their burdens on to the people they enslaved. At present my people, in France, are still enjoying a well-being based on world poverty. Even our most open-minded intellectuals prefer not to look too closely; they gain too much from the situation and don’t want the present order, based on force, to be disturbed.

Gandhi: Is not the remedy in the hands of the exploited peoples? In non-co-operation with the exploiters?…

R. R.: For people without religion this is impossible. The workers will be tempted by high salaries to make the arms and ammunitions which will be used against their brothers in other lands. First of all we ought to preach to them a gospel of poverty, selflessness and abnegation, a gospel of love. But it is more difficult to preach poverty and abnegation to victors and conquerors than it is to the vanquished and the oppressed.


The main discussion is about the “Theory and Practice of Non-violence”, and a report of it can be read in the “Letters from Europa” sent by Desai to Young India. I shall report here only the parts of it relevant to Einstein’s thesis, about which I have written myself, and the objections to it from Gandhi’s point of view. “How to carry out nonviolence effectively.” Should one simply refuse to carry arms? Einstein has made an appeal to men not to take part in war…Gandhi replies humorously: “Really, if I may say this about a great man, it seems that Einstein has stolen my method. But if you want me to go to the heart of the matter, I should say that simply refusing military service is not enough. To refuse military service when the time has come is to leave action until the time available for combating the evil has practically passed. Military service is only a symptom of a deeper evil. All those not inscribed for military service still participate equally in the crime if they support the state in other ways. Anyone who supports, directly or indirectly, a state with a military organization participates in the crime. Every man, young or old, participates in the crime if he contributes to the maintenance of the state by paying taxes…That is why all those who wish to stop military service should do it by withdrawing all co-operation from the state. The refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-co-operation with the whole system supporting the state. But then the opposition becomes so sharp and effective that you risk not only being put in prison, but also being thrown into the street…What Einstein says can happen only once a year and with a very small number of people, but I suggest non-co-operation with the state as your first duty.”

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