Stephen Lewis speaks to Satish Kumar, the long-standing editor of the pioneering environmental magazine Resurgence, about the publication’s philosophy and achievements
Forty-five years ago, Britain’s first environmental magazine was launched. Resurgence predated publications such as The Ecologist – with which it has now merged – and even existed before Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were established.
Founded at the end of 1966 by John Papworth and launched with the help of Leopold Kohr, EF Schumacher and Herbert Read at a time of little environmental awareness in the UK, in 1973 Resurgence moved into the hands of its now long-standing editor, Satish Kumar.
Satish had been a Jain monk and was steeped in Mahatma Gandhi’s ethic of non-violent resistance to oppression. At the height of the cold war, inspired by British philosopher and peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish spent most of the 60s walking the world, bringing a message of peace and reconciliation; a journey chronicled in his autobiography No Destination. It was during a visit to Britain that ‘Fritz’ Schumacher asked Satish to take over the editorship of Resurgence.
Satish was hesitant to accept the offer. “I wanted to go back to India to work within the Gandhian movement,” he says. Schumacher pressed him: “Why are you hesitant? Why don’t you stay here? There are lots of Gandhians in India; we need one in the UK. Help build bridges between East and West.” So Satish stayed, and has led Resurgence to become what the Guardian has referred to as ‘the artistic and spiritual flagship of the green movement.’
The west that Satish experienced was a shock. “It was a society where money, finance and material possessions were all-powerful. Everything was measured in terms of materialistic benefit; everything needed to have a financial validity and be measured in terms of money, even education and health.” But he adds: “I preferred to measure things with other values.”
One value derives from his Jain and Gandhian background and is embodied in the tone of Resurgence. It is, he maintains, a non-violent magazine. “The way we say things in Resurgence is gentle and non-violent; this is a different approach to other magazines, which can be aggressive, critical and didactic.”
Among the many influential articles that have appeared in Resurgence over the years, Satish highlights three: James Lovelock first put forward his Gaia theory in an article titled Stand up for Gaia, Arne Næss promoted the idea of deep ecology, while EF Schumacher first wrote about the concept of ‘small is beautiful’ in the pages of Resurgence.
“The way we say things in Resurgence is gentle and non-violent; this is a different approach to other magazines, which can be aggressive, critical and didactic”
But Resurgence isn’t only a magazine, it’s also a platform. Under Satish’s guiding hand it was instrumental in starting the influential Schumacher Lectures in 1977, the Small School in 1982, and Schumacher College in 1991. Satish also points to Resurgence’s influence in promoting organic farming, renewable energy and the development of the Green Party.
What then, are the root causes of the desecration of the Earth? Are they political and economic, or do they lie more in the realm of human nature and consciousness? Satish answers without hesitation that they are political and economic: “Children are conditioned in our education system, between the ages of five and twenty, to believe that nothing else matters but getting a good degree and landing a well-paid job.”
Politicians, business leaders, the TV and radio all tell us, he says, “it’s the economy stupid!” But when we dig a little deeper we will find, he believes, people insisting that friendship, love, relationships and families – which Satish regards as spiritual values – are infinitely more important.
“Spirituality and ecology are two sides of the same coin. Nature is alive and we need to have reverence for it and for people. But all spiritual values are suppressed in the capitalist system. People feel disempowered, disengaged and discouraged. They feel they have no power to change anything, they feel the need to succumb to what they are being told and, moreover, they think ‘I can’t beat it so I’ll join it.’”
Resurgence sees the correct response as combining political engagement with a change in consciousness. Kumar quotes Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Yet political action is vital, he insists: “Without it we’re just escaping into an eco-ghetto. We mustn’t surrender to exploitation, we must actively confront it.” So he and Resurgence support non-violent direct action.
What’s to be done to achieve the kind of world Resurgence envisions? “Firstly we need to change the institutional structure of society by embracing ‘small is beautiful’. Capitalism has become too big.” explains Satish. “We have big cities, big hospitals, big schools, big companies and big banks. Everything is too big; this undermines the human spirit, human imagination and human creativity. If we want human values, everything needs to be on a human scale.
“However, we also need a change in philosophy regarding our relationship with nature. Humans have believed that they are superior to nature, that it is there to serve us. But nature has intrinsic worth. We need a relationship of mutuality, not of dominance.”
EF Schumacher once commented: “In the name of gross national product, modern man will resort to any degree of technological violence and human degradation.” For 45 years, the magazine he co-founded, Resurgence, has been countering this with its affirmation of human and spiritual values, carrying the flame for a more harmonious world.