Gandhi and the English Working Class

Gandhi and the Indian Independence movement was wildly popular among the toiling masses of 20th century England.

If you’ve read my post about violence and Indian Independence, then you’ll know that I have a somewhat scathing view of Gandhian philosophy and satyagraha.  

Nonetheless, its important to recognize Gandhi’s universal appeal and solidarity not (just) to bourgeoisie sensibilities, as many radical leftists like to claim, but to the general toiling classes, both in India and London.  Regardless of the reactionary elements of his anti-modernity and his desire to harmonize the struggle between labor and capital, Gandhi was still a symbol of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggle in the eyes of the masses.

In 1931, Gandhi went to London to attend the Second Indian Round Table Conference.  When he arrived,

[He] was given a tremendous welcome by the British public.  His campaign was conducted from his lodgings in the East End of London, the poorest area of the city where he had deliberately chosen to stay as an act of solidarity (compare Castro’s later attachment to Harlem, and Harlem’s to Castro).  Some of the most moving photographs of Gandhi at this time show him being mobbed by the poor white working class among whom he stayed, each face lit up with excitement. 

Gandhi spent much of his time tirelessly going out to meet ordinary people in deprived areas of London; they received him with extraordinary enthusiasm.  He went to Lancashire to meet the cotton workers who had suffered from his swadeshi campaigns.  Far from being hostile towards him, the women workers welcomed him with equal warmth.  A remarkable photograph shows him standing surrounded by smiling women, the hands of young and old alike stretched up cheering in delight and exhilaration.


These were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the generation of cotton workers who, during the American Civil War, despite being reduced to near starvation by the blockade that prevented any cotton being exported from the American South, gave their unrelenting support to the North and its war against slavery.  Gandhi’s visit produced a rare insight into the attitudes of the British working class towards the British Empire: they supported and identified wholly with the Indian freedom movement.  They had been long conducting a freedom movement of their own.  (Young 2001: 334)


Unlinked Citations

Postcolonialism: A Historical Introduction, by Robert J.C. Young.  2001.

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1 Response to Gandhi and the English Working Class

  1. Mark says:

    This is great! Regardless of the practical implication of many of Gandhi’s views – I’m also sceptical, especially with regards to his naivety towards the Jewish people in Germany – it does show that people love the idea at least of peace, harmony and all the other altruisms.


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