As we gain an increasing perspective and literature on the political events of our era, it appears that the most unprecedented phenomena were the vast, mass political movements that emerged and dominated the stage of world history during the first half of this century. Great events such as the two world wars and the cold war, the downfall of imperialism and the revolutions that swept the third world, were all inextricably interwoven with these mass movements that began in Russia and then quickly followed in India, China and Germany.
The historical uniqueness of these political phenomena came not just from the obvious fact of a much increased world population. It is manifest more significantly in what happened to this population: the surprising proportion of people that became politicized to the point of becoming actively involved in organized radical protest. The degree of their involvement was not gauged by casting ballots. In the case of each of the four major movements, tens of millions of people expressed a fervent commitment to a charismatic leader, nationalist ideology and party organization.
Among these four movements, the Indian struggle for independence may be deemed the most extraordinary in several ways. First, its formal organization, the Indian National Congress, began before the others, in 1885, and experienced a series of changes under various Indian leaders before Gandhi dramatically transformed it into a mass organization in 1919. None of the other movements had so sophisticated a development within its own country at so early a stage.
The Indian movement, unlike the others, never assumed a military or paramilitary dimension. It maintained a purely civilian quality by not relying on an army mode of recruitment, discipline and institutional framework. These were indispensable to Nazi Germany or Communist Russia and China. Each of these four movements produced a political leader who became singularly identified with its success, gained a powerful international reputation and left his mark on world history. But Gandhi's leadership attained his without resort to armed violence, a feat that Lenin, Mao and Hitler neither attempted themselves nor thought feasible in any revolutionary context.
Among all the distinctive qualities that separate the Indian case from the others, the most remarkable is the vision that inspired it. Gandhi redefined for the nationalist movement its