Third World Visionaries of the 20th Century

The New Crisis, July/August 1999 | Go to article overview
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Third World Visionaries of the 20th Century


Mohandas K. Gandhi

( 1869-1948)

APOSTLE OF PEACE AND NON-VIOLENCE

"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."-Albert Einstein

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was among India's most fervent nationalists, fighting for Indian independence from British rule. Gandhi spearheaded the non-violent method of protest, which was termed "Satyagraha" For his dedicated service to the Indian Independence movement, Gandhi is often called the "Father of the Nation."

"Satyagraha means insistence and adherence to truth, in a nonviolent manner. Initially the term "passive resistance" was used to describe non-violent protest, but Gandhi insisted Satyagraha was more than that.

Satyagraha was a way of life, an evolving technique to bring change without violence. Non-violence or "Ahimsa" to Gandhi was imperative as a search for truth involved fighting injustice. Fighting injustice required one to love fellow human beings, and this love demanded non-violence. Gandhi believed it was necessary first to feel for the oppressed, then to fight for justice, thus making Satyagraha a "truth" and "justice" striking force.

Facing any brutality without resorting to violence demanded exceptional self-control and courage. But Gandhi insisted that a Satyagraha could only oppose an unfair act, never a person. Compassion for the suffering and constructive work were necessary ingredients of Satyagraha.

Historians portray differing views of Gandhi. Nationalists revered him, Hindu fanatics blamed him for the partition of India, Dalitis suspected Gandhi's commitment to their freedom, and British imperialists, like Winston Churchill, hated him. Author Judith Brown portrays Gandhi as a master of symbolism and cultivator of mass support, while recent authors harp on Gandhi's "eccentricities."

But no one view could possibly represent the man's whole philosophy of Satyagraha, which influenced leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela. Ultimately Gandhi became synonymous with the Indian independence movement. Historian R. Tagore expressed the views of millions when he called Gandhi the "Great Soul - the Mahatma"

Mao Tsetung

(1893-1976)

PEOPLES' PROPHET

Chinese political leader, founder of People's Republic of China and Maoism (or "Mao Tse-Tung Thought," as it is known in China). Mao aligned himself with the poor peasants of China and gained control of the Chinese Communist party in 1935. By the time the People's Republic of China was established in 1940, Mao was the acknowledged hero and leader of the revolution and the new government.

Before Mao's fall from grace, after his death, pictures of Mao were prominent throughout China and everyone in the country who could, read "Quotations from the Works of Chairman Mao Tsetung," the main text of Maoism and the second most widely distributed book in the world. Dedicated Maoists referred to this book whenever problems arose. They claimed it always provided the proper inspirational quotation.

The main tenets of Maoism are faith in the Communist party, faith in the masses, and transcendence of personal desires in order to serve the people as a whole.

In addition to being a political leader, Mao was also a poet, whose literary production contains mainly speeches, essays and poems. He published some 40 poems written in classical tradition with political messages.

Of the soldiers who journey with him across China on the historic Long March, he wrote:

"The Red Army, never fearing the challenging Long March,

Looked lightly upon the many peaks and rivers

Wu Meng's range rose, lowered, rippled

And green-tiered were the rounded steps of Wu Meng

Warm beating the Gold Sand River's waves against the rocks

And cold the iron chain spans of Tatu bridge

A thousand joyous li of freshening snow on Min Shan

And then, the last pass vanquished, the Armies smiled"

Kwame Nkrumah (Osagyefo)

1909-1972

VOICE OF NEW AFRICA

Nkrumah, the first president of the Republic of Ghana, was active in African Nationalism and in Pan-African unity most of his life.

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