Part 3 of 3
“Out-Hitlering Hitler”: Allied-Axis Moral Equivalence & the Dialectics of Violence
In contrast with the literal demonization of Hitler in Allied propaganda and postwar culture, Gandhi constantly morally equated Hitler’s violence with that of Churchill, Stalin, or Roosevelt. Gandhi saw Hitlerism not as a unique evil but merely one link — perhaps the frankest — in the dialectical escalatory chain of violence which had largely begun with the Western “democracies” and their empires. The fascists had merely systematized the previous Western tradition of statecraft, warfare, and imperialism, as Gandhi wrote in April 1939:
Fascists and Nazis are a revised edition of so-called democracies if they are not an answer to the latter’s misdeeds. Kirby Page in his brochure on the toll of the late war has shown that both the combatants were guilty of falsehoods, exaggerations and inhumanities. The Versailles Treaty was a treaty of revenge against Germany by the victors. The so-called democracies have before now misappropriated other people’s lands and have resorted to ruthless repression. What wonder if Messrs Hitler and company have reduced to a science the unscientific violence their predecessors had developed for exploiting the so-called backward races for their own material gain? It is therefore a matter of rule of three to find out the exact amount of non-violence required to melt the harder hearts of the Fascists and the Nazis, if it is assumed, as it is, that the so-called democracies melt before a given amount of nonviolence. (75/248)
Gandhi then asserted that Germany had been wronged both during the First World War, where the Allies had been guilty of lies and atrocities, and in imposing the manifestly hypocritical and unjust Treaty of Versailles. National Socialism was the reaction. The hypocrisy and bad consciences of the Western democracies furthermore explained why they were so impotent to resist Mussolini and Hitler’s conquests, paralyzed as they were by moral indecision. Gandhi summarized his “Hitlerology” in an interview with the Spectator in December 1941: “Hitler is a scourge sent by God to punish men for their iniquities” (81/350).
Admittedly, Hitler was and is not anywhere as taboo among Indians as in the West. Unsurprisingly then, Gandhi and other Indians were in the habit of attacking almost any authoritarian tendency they disagreed with as Hitlerism. Gandhi complained that the South Africans had breached an agreement protecting the rights of Indians, just as Hitler violated pacts (75/241). Gandhi also compared the Indian princes to Hitler for their unilateral decisions.
The moral equivalence between Hitlerism, Stalinism, colonialism, “Churchillism,” “and all such isms” was much more fundamental however. For Gandhi, these were all of a kind, being essentially violence. He adopted this view early and kept to it consistently throughout his life. In January 1935, Gandhi said: “My first aim is to change the mentality of the people, not to coerce them as Roosevelt, Hitler or Mussolini are doing in their countries” (66/58). In November 1936, he told the writer Basil Mathews: “I cannot speak with either the definiteness or the confidence of a Stalin or a Hitler, as I have no cut-and-dried programme which I can impose on the villagers. My method, I need not say, is different. I propose to convert by patient persuasion” (70/113).
In August 1940, Gandhi effectively argued that the Hobbesian pursuit of protection through violence culminated in National Socialism, and that the British were wrong to react in kind:
There is always a weak majority that would want protection against man’s mischief. The orthodox method we know. Nazism is its logical outcome. It is an answer to a definite want. A terrible wrong wantonly perpetrated against a whole nation cried out for redress. And Hitler arose to avenge it. Whatever the ultimate fortune of the war, Germany will not be humiliated again. Humanity will not stand a second outrage. But in seeking to avenge the wrong by the wrong method of violence brought to very near perfection, Hitler has brutalized not only Germans but a large part of humanity. The end of it we have not yet reached. For Britain, so long as she holds to the orthodox method, has to copy the Nazi methods if she is to put up a successful defence. Thus the logical outcome of the violent method seems to be increasingly to brutalize man including “the weak majority”. For it has to give its defenders the required measure of co-operation. (79/88)
Asked by journalist Francis Hickman in September 1940 on how to “mak[e] the world safe from Hitlerism,” Gandhi responded: “If the Congress succeeds in its non-violent effort, Hitlerism and all such ‘isms’ will go as a matter of course. [. . .] England would have to out-Hitler Hitler in defeating him. We do not want to use any of the weapons used by those who would crush us” (79/233-5). Gandhi also wrote that same month:
If Britain seeks justice, she must appear before the imperial court of God with clean hands She will not defend liberty and democracy by following totalitarian methods so far as war is concerned. She will not be able to retrace her steps after out Hitlering Hitler in war. The last war is a resounding lesson. Her victory, if attained, will be a snare and a delusion. I know mine is a voice in the wilderness. But it will some day ring true. (79/257)
Gandhi wrote in December 1940: “[The British] vainly expect to kill Hitlerism by excelling Hitler and Mussolini in the manufacture and use of weapons that these two dictators use” (79/430).
In an April 1941 letter, Gandhi equated British imperialism and National Socialism: “I assert that in India we have Hitlerian rule however disguised it may be in softer terms” (80/200). In an October 1941 speech at Sevagram, Gandhi equated Hitlerism and “Churchillism”:
If we wish to win swaraj [independence] through ahimsa [compassion], this is the only way. If, however, we wish to use force, then Hitler would point the way. There are only two courses open—either Hitler’s, that is, the way of violence, or mine, that is, the way of non-violence. Hitlerism and Churchillism are in fact the same thing. The difference of only one of degree. (81/191)
Gandhi reiterated this in an October 1941 letter to his close Quaker friend Agatha Harrison:
We here perceive no difference between Hitlerism and British Imperialism. Hitlerism is a superfine copy of Imperialism and Imperialism is trying to overtake Hitlerism as fast as it can. Democracy is nowhere. In this unholy duel, so far as I can see, nonviolence is working its way in a silent but sure manner. My faith in it is daily growing stronger. Whether as Polak says [probably Henry Polak, “radical Jew” and friend of Gandhi’s] and as you almost hint, I think, in your most gentle manner, it can stand the strain if bombs were dropping near my feet and I was witnessing dear ones being crushed to death, I cannot say. I rehearse such situations, I pray that the faith might not break under such strain. I flatter myself with the belief that I can feel these things from afar. (81/223)
In a speech that same month, Gandhi equated Churchill and Hitler’s molding men for violence and expressed optimism in the nonviolent fashioning of human nature:
My faith in human nature is progressively growing. I have concluded, on the basis of my experiments, that human nature can be easily moulded. We have come to assume, because of our inertia, that human nature is always the same and seldom amenable to progress. Churchill and Hitler are striving to change the nature of their respective countrymen by forcing and hammering violent methods on them. Man may be suppressed in this manner but he cannot be changed. Ahimsa, on the other hand, can change human nature and sooner than men like Churchill and Hitler can. (81/231)
In a January 1942 speech, Gandhi claimed that Hitler was in striking against the Jews acting in accordance with Mosaic law:
Now the way of demonstrating one’s strength is of two kinds: one is the eternal, God-given way of self-purification, where man takes the blame upon himself of all the wrongs he is suffering from; the other is the way of retaliation, the Mosaic law of tooth for a tooth and nail for a nail. The latter is quite natural in that we have descended from the state of brutes, and some of their qualities may have been exaggerated in us. It is Hitler’s way. Because a Jew or many Jews may have wronged the Germans he thinks it is his duty to exterminate the whole Jewish race. To those Harijans who would destroy caste Hindus and Hinduism I would say that the Hindus deserve it. But the caste Hindus too owe a duty to themselves and their religion. Let them receive lathis [fighting sticks] and stones from Harijans. But they should continue to serve them. (81/461)
Gandhi said in May 1942 “I do not want to become either a Hitler or a Churchill. I for my part would like to become an independent peasant of India but I have not succeeded so far” (82/336).
Gandhi is then — at least in his collected works — strangely silent on Hitler from mid-1942 to almost the end of the war. He spoke again of Hitler in April 1945 in an interview with Colliers Weekly to condemn all the participants as war criminals:
What is a war criminal? Was not war itself a crime against God and humanity and, therefore, were not all those who sanctioned, engineered, and conducted wars, war criminals? War criminals are not confined to the Axis Powers alone. Roosevelt and Churchill are no less war criminals than Hitler and Mussolini. (86/223)
Gandhi called Hitler “Great Britain’s sin” and equated Western and Japanese imperialisms:
Hitler is only an answer to British imperialism, and this I say in spite of the fact that I hate Hitlerism and its anti-Semitism. England, America and Russia have all of them got their hands dyed more or less red—not merely Germany and Japan. The Japanese have only proved themselves to be apt pupils of the West. They have learnt at the feet of the West and beaten it at its own game. (86/223-4)
In a discussion with Indian National Army officers in March 1946, Gandhi empathized equally with British imperialism and Hitlerism, noting that both always justified their use of force: “Even [Archibald] Wavell, [Claude] Auchinleck [British officers in India] or Hitler does not use the sword without necessity. But that does not make it ahimsa. It is himsa [injury], whatever its justification” (91/20).
In November 1946, Gandhi said: “The United Nations set out to fight Hitler with his weapons and ended by out-Hitlering Hitler” (93/26). There is the following report for Gandhi’s interview with a French journalist in December 1946: “Gandhiji [an affectionate diminutive for Gandhi] said that if [Europeans] continued like this [to embrace violence], they were sure to perish. What had happened in Europe was that Hitlerism had only been destroyed by super-Hitlerism and this chain was endless. It would go on like that.”
Gandhi’s Admiration for Hitler
Speaking in February 1947 to victims of the extraordinarily violent riots and population exchanges between Hindus and Muslims which had followed India’s independence, Gandhi cited Hitler as the ultimate example of the vanity of power: “Gandhiji said that man could do nothing but surrender himself completely to the will of God, as everything happens by His will. Great empires had crumbled down. Hitler had desired to conquer the world. What had become of how?” (93/358).
Surprising at it may be, Gandhi however publicly expressed on numerous occasions admiration for Hitler’s skill and aspects of his character. He had also shared Hitler’s view of the peasantry as an essential pillar of society, saying in October 1933:
That the village industries in Germany are being revived at the point of the sword is not relevant here. What is relevant is that a country, which has shown the highest technical skill and is amongst the most advanced in the matter of industrialization, is trying to go back to village industries for solving the problem of her terrible unemployment. (62/85)
Gandhi rejected National Socialist eugenics only insofar as these were coercive: “As regards sterilization I consider it inhuman to impose it as a law on the people. But in the case of individuals with chronic diseases, it is desirable to have them sterilized if they are agreeable to it” (66/70).
Gandhi admired many of Hitler’s personal traits, namely his zeal, self-sacrifice, asceticism, patience, discipline, and statecraft. In a June 1940 speech in Wardha, he said (my emphasis):
We have to live and move and have our being in ahimsa, even as Hitler does in himsa. It is the faith and perseverance and single-mindedness with which he has perfected his weapons of destruction that commands my admiration. That he uses them as a monster is immaterial for our purpose. We have to bring to bear the same single-mindedness and perseverance in evolving our ahimsa. Hitler is awake all the 24 hours of the day in perfecting his sadhana. He wins because he pays the price. His inventions surprise his enemies. But it is his single-minded devotion to his purpose that should be the object of our admiration and emulation. Although he works all his waking hours, his intellect is unclouded and unerring. Are our intellects unclouded and unerring? (78/349)
Gandhi was suitably impressed by Hitler’s lightning victories over the Allies in France. In September 1940, he wrote: “Hitler’s astuteness baffles me. But this astuteness is of no worth to me. The thing I have placed before India today is such that even if Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Churchill all put together oppose it they cannot defeat it” (79/219). Speaking to students in March 1941, Gandhi “emphasised the need for discipline, which was necessary in any organization. Even violence, he remarked, needed discipline as was obvious from the example of Hitler” (80/89).
In a May 1941 letter, Gandhi praised Hitler’s patience and self-control: “Whether one adopts the method of non-violence or of violence, one can succeed only if one has patience. Can we ever imagine what patience and self-control Hitler and others must be obliged to exercise? Stabbing cannot be stopped by stabbing” (80/291). This presumably referred to Hitler’s resilience in the face of British stubbornness and aggression, such as aerial bombardment of civilians.
In a December 1941 speech, Gandhi urged his followers to reject Hitler’s violence, but to emulate his apparent self-sacrifice and asceticism:
Even a votary of violence is capable of self-sacrifice. Hitler too is said to be self-sacrificing. He is violence incarnate. It is said he is a vegetarian. I find it difficult to imagine how, if he is one, he is able to countenance so much slaughter. Anyway, his is said to be a life of self-sacrifice. He has no vices. He has not married. His character is said to be clean. He is always alert. What we require is both self-sacrifice and non-violence. Non-violence means love. (81/383-4)
Conclusion: Gandhi Vindicated?
Having made this overview, I believe we can say that many of Gandhi’s positions have been vindicated. Gandhi’s general theory and practice of the escalatory dialectics of violence and its neutralization through nonviolence is powerful. Indeed, we can say that the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets succeeded in destroying the Third Reich by indeed “out-Hitlering Hitler,” by achieving similar levels of nationalistic fervor and state organization in the application of violence. The two superpowers split Europe between them and their destructive potential increased exponentially with the Cold War and the amassing of enormous nuclear arsenals. This was the “super-Hiterism” which, by a miracle, was never actualized in a hot war occurred which could have well meant the final annihilation of Europe.
More specifically, we can in retrospect say that a non-interventionist approach to the Third Reich would, so far as the English-speaking countries and even the Jews are concerned, have meant less violence. Investigation of the historical record since the war is unambiguous: Hitler had no ambitions on Great Britain but rather saw her as a sister-nation whose Empire should be supported. American claims that Hitler was bent on conquest of the United States and the banning of Christianity have been shown to have been nothing more than low propaganda. Hitler’s expansionist aims were largely limited to the East: a conquest for the ages which would unite the German tribes, destroy the Bolshevik threat, and found an autarkic superpower.
Mainstream historians of the Shoah admit that mass extermination was by no means contemplated prior to the war and that the Final Solution took the form it did in the particular radicalizing and resource-limited context of total war. In all probability, had the Third Reich been left in peace European Jewry would have been merely encouraged to emigrate to Palestine (as in the 1933 Nazi-Zionist agreement) or expelled to Madagascar or Siberia, but not physically liquidated.
Insofar as “violence,” “aggression,” “international law,” “democracy,” and all that are concerned, I am tempted to say that Gandhi is the only major world leader with any moral legitimacy to even claim to criticize Hitler. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were murderers and hypocrites all.
I personally do not believe that Gandhi’s fundamentalist doctrine of nonviolence is appropriate for the challenges facing the European peoples in the twenty-first century, namely demographic survival. That said, Gandhi recognized that ethnic groups had a (non-violent?) right to own their homeland and prevent dispossession by demographic submersion. He had in 1938 opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine, saying: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and in-human to impose the Jews on the Arabs” (74/239). Are such arguments not equally valid today, when so many groups agitate to impose foreign groups upon the Western and European peoples?
Gandhi was a qualified egalitarian, certainly in the attachment to “nondiscrimination.” His rejection of the caste system led him to being denounced by pious Hindus as a heretic violating Scripture. One can level the same biological critique of Gandhism as against Buddhism: only those predisposed to idealism will adopt this selfless practice, leaving them helpless before the congenitally selfish. Gandhi justified nondiscrimination by arguing that human beings were unequal in body but not in soul:
We are all absolutely equal. But equality is of the souls and not the bodies. Hence, it is a mental state. We need to think of, and to assert, equality because we see great inequality in the physical world. We have to realize equality in the midst of this apparent external inequality. Assumption of superiority by any person over any other is a sin against God and man. Thus caste, in so far as it connotes distinctions in status, is an evil.
The ambiguity of Gandhi is reflected in two comments of Ezra Pound on the period. One could easily argue that the Gandhian technique of nonviolence could only be effective in the face of a decadent empire like that of the British which had lost its will-to-power and was doomed by growing softness, sentimentality, and self-doubt. As Pound reported: “The British mind in 1909 was decadent. I said so, and I got the languid reply: ‘But surely other empires have decayed, why shouldn’t we?’”
This, no doubt, explains Hitler’s contempt for Western admiration of Gandhi. That his nonviolence, while it can be driven by otherworldy-aspiring discipline, also appeals to the fearful Last Man in us. And that is surely why so many Jews found Gandhi attractive and why Gandhi, along with King and Mandela, are promoted as the antiracist holy trinity of nonviolence. Understand, goyim: limitless and fanatical violence in the eternal war of extermination against European ethno-nationalisms, only nonviolence against the abuses of the liberal-internationalist plutocracy which rules you and is organizing your physical replacement. At least Gandhi was noble enough to not fall for that scam. As Pound also writes:
If I can’t go quite as far as my Viennese café conspirator and believe that all pacifism is a diabolic and conscious device engineered by the war-makers as a definite part of their mechanism, I can at least believe that vigorous serpents have instinct, and that men resolved to live by human blood, unconsciously and/or semiconsciously, favour and finance obscurantings.
For my part, I say: nonviolence, like anything, if pursued out of discipline is something wholly unlike the same thing pursued out of slouching. Gandhi himself said there was thing if there was one thing more contemptible than a violent man, it was a Last Man: “I can only prefer violence to cowardice . . . Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Savitri Devi, the Hitlerite “priestess” who had lived in India, had mixed feelings about Gandhi, considering his excessive popularity to be undeserved and his “nonviolence” to actually be a kind of coercion. Devi nonetheless said the Mahatma was “a man in many ways in glaring contrast to Adolf Hitler, but still, like him, a man ‘against Time.’” That was another thing the two men had in common and was perhaps the highest the priestess could give.
1. A phrase which reminded me of Werner Herzog’s 1972 film Aguirre, the Wrath of God starring Klaus Kinski. Apparently I am not the only one to see a meditation on Hitlerism in this hypnotic tale of a hubristic descent into madness while pursuing power and the divine, the mirage of El Dorado standing in for “the East.” Herzog himself claimed no Hitlerian parallel had been intended. Jeremy Tallmer, “Aguirre is back, with a vengeance,” Downtown Express, October 20-26, 2006. http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_180/aguirre.html
2. Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (New York: New Directions, 1970 ), 228.
3. One must meditate upon what makes for a good globalist “totemic personality” or symbolic figurehead: a non-entity superficially attractiveness to the increasingly self-ignorant, rootless, and effete masses. Hence, yesterday John F. Kennedy, today Obama, tomorrow something like Beyoncé (just you wait).
4. Ibid., 245.
5. Quoted in William Borman, Gandhi and Non-Violence (New York: SUNY, 1986), 253.
6. Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015), 290. Savitri also says:
Gandhi could not, in the name of that universal kindness which he repeatedly preached as the main tenet of his faith, prevent Hindu milk-men from deliberately starving their male calves to death, in order to sell a few extra pints of cow’s milk. (10)
Late Mahatma Gandhi’s much admired “non-violence” was of that type: moral violence; not: “Do this, or else I kill you!”, but: “Do this, or else I kill myself!” Knowing that you hold my life as indispensable. (44-45)
Late Mahatma Gandhi was by no means what we have tried to define as a man “above time.” He was what we shall call a man “against Time,” aiming now — far too late or . . . a little too soon, — at the establishment of a tangible order of justice (Ram raj) on this earth. (45)
The world-famous apostle of “nonviolence” in our times, late Mahatma Gandhi, is not in the same class as either Asoka or Akhnaton. (191)
[A]n outstanding man as Gandhi, — a rare blending of business-like shrewdness and saintly aspirations [. . .]. (322)