Letter to Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi; drawing by David Levine


In the first part of my book, Gandhi’s Truth, I describe the way in which, on a trip to India, my “psycho-historical” interest was aroused by what some surviving witnesses told me about a relatively little known event of Gandhi’s middle years, namely his leadership, in 1918, of a textile strike in Ahmedabad, the capital of his home state. I then review Gandhi’s life before 1914, his childhood and youth, and the decades in South Africa during which he developed the revolutionary technique of militant nonviolence.

Before I follow Gandhi back to India, and to his ascendance to the Mahatmaship, I decide to “settle” with my great subject some controversial matters which he himself raises in his memoirs of the South African years; and I write him the letter here reprinted.

In the second part of the book, I proceed to clarify what Truth-in-Action meant to Gandhi by retelling in detail the history and the technique of the Ahmedabad strike, and by relating the inner conflicts of his middle years to the grand political decisions ahead of him. In the final chapter I discuss the complementary nature of Gandhi’s and Freud’s contemporary insights.


…I am now about midway through this book and as eager as any of my readers to follow you to India and to that period of your life which was shared by my witnesses. But first I must say a word about your account of the period now to be left behind. I will put my critique into words which I hope I would have had the courage to address to you if you were alive. My justification for approaching you would have been the conviction that psychoanalytic insights happen to complement your kind of truth by a strange reversal of the traditional roles of East and West: for you are now a model of activism in our culture, while Western thought has provided a new technique of introspection.

You have given me a perfect opening in a passage of your Autobiography which, on re-reading, I must take very personally. In a chapter called “Intimate European Contact,”1 close to the middle of your book, you suddenly interrupt your reflections, aware of a critical voice other than your “inner voice”:

What things to mention and what to omit regarding the English friends of whom I am about to write is a serious problem. If things that are relevant are omitted, truth will be dimmed. And it is difficult to decide straightaway what is relevant, when I am not even sure about the relevancy of writing this story.

I understand more clearly today what I read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography as history. I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember. Who can say how much I must give and how much omit in the…

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