Connect with us


Sri Lanka’s shares close down on wait and see approach for DDR

Share with your friends:

This is a reprint of Chapter Five from Mark Hager’s recently-published book, ‘Elusive Ideology: Religion and Socialism in Modern Indian Thought.’ Earlier reprints from the Introduction and Chapters One, Three and Four of the book, dealing with Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal and Ambedkar, have appeared in Echelon and EconomyNext, beginning in August, 2022. ‘Elusive Ideology’ is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Barefoot Cafe, Expographic Books and Sarasavi Bookshop(s).

Jain-willed and born lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas G. Gandhi) (1869-1948) began life at Porbandar in present-day Gujarat, son of a man who served as prime minister of several small princely states in that region. In 1888, he departed for England to complete his education and in 1891 he was called to the bar. After a brief return to India. Gandhi migrated to South Africa in 1893, where he took up the practice of law and soon became a leader in campaigns to reform racist laws adverse to South Africa’s Indian population. During his two-decade career in South Africa, he began his lifelong experiments in building utopian communities and also developed the techniques and philosophy of satyagraha, confrontational non-violent resistance to authority, as a method of pursuing progressive social change.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India. where he soon became closely engaged in the nationalist movement and a variety of other political and social campaigns. He launched the campaign of Non-cooperation with British authority in 1920 but called for its suspension as violence broke out in 1922. Sentenced to a six-year prison term in 1920. he regained release in 1924 for reasons of ill health. In 1930, the Indian National Congress resumed its campaign of Non-cooperation. Gandhi subsequently led the famous “salt satyagraha,” defying British law on the manufacture, sale and taxation of salt. He served time again for his role in that campaign.

In 1931, Gandhi nevertheless negotiated a pact with Britain’s Lord Irwin. In return for suspension of civil disobedience, Britain agreed to recognize India’s prerogative of constitutional self-government. Through the late 30s, Gandhi urged that the Congress maintain focus on total independence from Britain, but did not oppose its adoption of socialism as its post-independence goal.

Under the complex political pressures of World War II, Gandhi helped launch the anti-British “Quit India” campaign, beginning in 1942. He was consequently arrested and he remained in detention until 1944. Between the war’s end in 1945 and the achievement of Indian independence in 1947, he strove energetically to prevent the split-off of Pakistan and to diminish Hindu-Muslim antagonisms, antagonisms that many blamed on Gandhi’s own Hindu loyalties and political misjudgments. His assassination at the hands of a Hindu partisan came at a time when he might well have felt a sense of enormous failure: his dream of a united independent India dashed, his non-violent principles eclipsed by a bloodbath of savage Hindu-Muslim violence.

We have so far traced out several vicissitudes of a problematic: how to juxtapose Indian religious ideas and socialist ideas in a relevant Indian social ideology. Several approaches have been explored and certain inadequacies identified. We will now explore Gandhi’s thought within the context of this problematic. It is scarcely possible to examine here Gandhi’s vast volume of writing on religion and society. It is possible only to sketch out some themes, along with their related-problems and promise.


Gandhi’s religious thought centers around two key concepts. The first is satya, or Truth. The word satya stems from sat, meaning “pure being” and is therefore an appropriate name for God. “Truth is God,” proclaims Gandhi. Gandhi’s other chief religious concept is ahimsa: love or non-violence. Ahimsa is not God, but rather the practice of religion, that is, the quest for God. Gandhi writes: “(W)ithout Ahimsa, it is not possible to seek truth and find truth. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically nearly impossible to disentangle and separate them. Nevertheless, Ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end.

Human nature has two contending aspects, one spiritual or divine the other bodily or animal. Ahimsa characterizes spirit or soul, while himsa, violence, characterizes the animal body. “Man as animal is violent, but as Spirit is non-violent,” Gandhi writes. As a property of the soul, ahimsa is a virtue that people can cultivate. It is also a property of society. All social life expresses at least partially the attribute of ahimsa. “All society is held together by non-violence,” Gandhi writes. Ahimsa is harmony and cooperation, while himsa is coercion and exploitation. It is possible through conscious social action to expand the proportion of ahimsa in the world. To Gandhi, religious life is the practice of ahimsa. The practice is one of both personal self-cultivation and social action. The enlargement of ahimsa both personal and social is humanity’s way to realize God and is God’s progressive incarnation in the world.

Ahimsa and himsa, spirit and matter, live in perpetual antagonism. The practice of ahimsa is spirit’s struggle to subdue matter. At the personal level, this means the soul’s attempt to subdue and master the body. Like thinkers examined above, Gandhi sees the religious life as one of exercising restraint upon bodily and material passions. Ahimsa is “self-denial” and “self-restraint.” In the social sphere also, ahimsa is the struggle of spirit against matter. In particular, it is sometimes the struggle to spiritualize or moralize the life of material production. Individual ahimsa, material self-restraint, makes social ahimsa, spiritualized productive relations, easier to achieve.


Gandhi finds Western society lacking in virtues of material restraint He joins several thinkers examined above in condemning Western industrialism as immoral or at least detrimental, while praising Indian culture for its high spiritual and moral tenor. When he pens Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule in 1908, Gandhi condemns Western industrial-ism on three main counts. First, through British imperialism, it has specifically impoverished India by destroying her handicraft production. Second, it fuels rather than restrains material greed. Third, it exploits and coerces the downtrodden. In light of these evils, Gandhi hopes industrial civilization will disappear.

Though Gandhi maintains this early suspicion of industrialism throughout his career, his views grow more nuanced with time. He continues to advocate a low-industry social order but comes to acknowledge a social usefulness for industry, appropriately organized. Moreover, he increasingly sees not industrialism itself but capitalism as source of the ills he condemns. He looks more and more for an industrial order shorn of capitalist features.

Gandhi’s three early criticisms of industrialism manifest themselves in various ways in all his thoughts on socio-economic organization.

On the first count, de-industrialization, Gandhi partly misidentifies the problem. Had Indian handicrafts been destroyed by native Indian industry, loss of employment and consequent impoverishment and land crowding could have been less severe. It is perhaps the fact that Indian handicrafts were wiped out by British industry that made the crisis so drastic. Displaced handicraft workers cannot be absorbed by industry located in another land. Though Gandhi partly misconstrues the problem, he worries that heavy industrialization may do little to alleviate India’s rural poverty. For that, close attention to problems of rural production is needful.

Gandhi’s latter two counts against industrialism, material greed and exploitation, reveal Gandhi’s conception of ahimsa. Material greed contradicts ahimsa in that it is impelled by body, not soul. Exploitation contradicts ahimsa in that it entails coercion and oppression. Gandhi therefore looks for a social order that will embody ahimsa. It would be one of both material self-restraint and non-exploitation, in contrast with the greed and exploitation he attributes to industrialism in his early career, more to capitalism as time goes on.

Gandhi’s concerns about rural poverty and desire to create an ahimsa society come together in his thought about reconstruction of India’s villages. Among thinkers examined above, two main attitudes towards India’s villages may be found: a concern over rural poverty and a myth of model community. Gandhi puts the concern and the myth together in his programs for reconstruction. In doing so, he attends to both spiritual and production problems.

Ahimsa implies non-coercion. The society of ahimsa must therefore be democratic. Conversely, true democracy requires ahimsa. Because states are essentially violent, perfect ahimsa would imply stateless anarchy. Gandhi’s emphasis on statelessness and anarchy echo Aurobindo. Short of anarchy, democratic government is the closest possible approach to ahimsa, because in democracy coercion is collectively self-imposed by the people and is therefore coercive in only the most minimal sense. All centralization frustrates ahimsa by placing coercive power in the hands of the few. Democracy is therefore best if decentralized rather than state-centered. These considerations taken together lead Gandhi to conclude that ahimsa is maximized by a system of de-centralized village self-government. His notions for such a regime come to be designated as panchayat raj.

In panchayat raj, he writes, every village is a “republic,” with maximum power to regulate its own affairs. Ahimsa is maximized because, with each person joining closely in regulation of affairs, coercion diminishes. Panchayat raj is a regime of personal as well as social ahimsa. Members of the democratic regime must practice material self-denial and moral self-restraint so as to minimize possibilities for conflict, himsa. Gandhi designates moral self-restraint with the term swaraj (“self-rule”), which is a synonym for democracy. Swaraj, like ahimsa itself, is both personal and social. Non-violence, self-restraint, and democracy imply one another.

Gandhi joins the chorus of those who find in India’s past a paradigm for ideal community. He suggests, in particular, that India’s ancient villages followed principles of ahimsa. His work, however, goes beyond invoking communal spirit and the past that mythically embodies it. His distinctive contribution is to fix attention on the sorts of material organization that would foster such spirit today. He writes copiously about the material life of reconstructed villages, including such matters as improved water supply, sanitation, housing, health, and farming techniques. Typical is his advocacy of manure composting in order to promote sanitation and provide fertilizer. Moreover, he refers, though vaguely, to cooperative ownership of land, animals and tools, to cooperative farming and dairying, and to cooperative credit institutions. These gain his favor both for their productive superiority and for their value in fostering moral growth.

Gandhi deploys the term sarvodaya (“welfare of all”) to refer to village reconstruction. Central to sarvodaya, he holds, is the village social worker who exemplifies ahimsa in his person and activity. It is, for Gandhi, part of ahimsa to identify with and share the experience of society’s most downtrodden. Gandhi’s socialist sympathies stem from this same conviction. To succeed, the sarvodaya worker must as far as possible become a villager, sharing village poverty and problems while working to relieve them.

Gandhi insists that village reconstruction is far more crucial to progressive social change than is political control over the state. Late in his career, he proposes that the Congress, banner organization of Indian nation-building, disband itself as a party seeking and wielding state power. Instead, it should reorganize as a Lok Sevak Sangh (“society for service to the people”), focusing mass organized effort into progressive village work. His proposal falls on stony ground.

Another dimension Gandhi stresses is village industrial production. He envisions a network of light, labor-intensive, farm-linked industries connected to every village. He outlines advantages to such a decentralized productive scheme. First, it puts underemployed rural labor to work, counteracting some of the damage done by deindustrialization. Second, it avoids the concentration of economic power that goes with heavy industry, thus ensuring that villages can regulate their own affairs in consonance with ahimsa. Gandhi imagines maximizing each village’s autonomy by making it self-reliant in terms of basic necessities. He hints at an insight later developed by J.P. Narayan: that decentralized democracy makes no sense if determinative economic decisions and events take place beyond the scope of the village. Third, decentralized industry avoids radical disparities of wealth that Gandhi thinks go with heavy industry.

Though Gandhi envisions basic adequacy in village material wealth, he repudiates affluence. He advocates instead “voluntary poverty,” which implies equality, lack of material greed, and a communal spirit of mutual dependence and service. In the tradition of Vivekananda, he adopts and transvalues Hindu admiration for the renouncer. He interprets renunciation or “voluntary poverty” as a religious virtue for the many, not just for the few. The true renouncer or sannyasin is one who devotes himself to selfless social service.

Though Gandhi envisions basic adequacy in village material wealth, he repudiates affluence. He advocates instead “voluntary poverty,” which implies equality, lack of material greed, and a communal spirit of mutual dependence and service. In the tradition of Vivekananda, he adopts and transvalues Hindu admiration for the renouncer. He interprets renunciation or “voluntary poverty” as a religious virtue for the many, not just for the few. The true renouncer or sannyasin is one who devotes himself to selfless social service.

This spiritual emphasis prompts Gandhi to criticize conventional socialism, the sole aim of which is “material progress.” Orthodox socialism’s materialist outlook pushes it toward violence, which is related to over-emphasis on the state. He links his own socialism with material restraint, ahimsa and the village community, in contrast to the materialism, violence and statism he associates with conventional socialism.


It is not for Gandhi enough to establish a picture of ahimsa realized in socialism. To him, the proper method of pursuing ahimsa is more important than any institutional embodiment of it. The ahimsa method Gandhi finds most powerful he calls “satyagraha,” organized non-violent action against injustice. Its most dramatic and obvious manifestations are strikes and mass public disobedience. It can also, however, include the social action of committed individuals like sarvodaya social workers. “Satyagraha” can be translated as “cleaving to Truth.” It captures the connection in Gandhi’s mind between God (Truth) and non-violence. One cleaves to God/Truth by practicing non-violent social action. God is both approached and made manifest through ahimsa and satyagraha.

Gandhi insistently claims that the purpose of true satyagraha can never be to coerce an antagonist. On the contrary, the point must be “to convert the wrongdoer.” This contrasts with Aurobindo’s view, explored above, of “passive resistance” as merely the least violent way to coerce an adversary into stopping his wrongdoing. Gandhi’s satyagraha aims, in theory, to move the soul of the adversary, not the body. To coerce the opponent materially is himsa, violence, but to move the opponent’s soul or sense of justice is ahimsa.

Gandhi’s claims as to the non-coercive nature of satyagraha lie open to serious question. One form of satyagraha, for example, is a non-violent labor strike, such as the one Gandhi helped organize in 1918 among Ahmedabad textile workers. It is seldom true in a successful strike that the employer accedes to strike demands from a sense of sympathy and justice. Success in a strike generally comes when the employer feels a coercive economic pinch sufficient to impel accession to worker demands. In this light, Gandhi’s insistence that success be de-fined entirely in terms of converting the adversary’s sympathy seems disingenuous. In the Ahmedabad strike, to take one example, it was Gandhi’s own ‘fast unto death,’ not sudden insight into the “justice” of the worker demands, that impelled the mill owners to relent. This case was itself atypical due to Gandhi’s public stature and his personal friend-ship with the mill owners. In the usual case, an employer relents at the point when a strike grows overly threatening to profits. Hence, the strike acts upon the employer primarily through material considerations and is therefore coercive. Similar considerations often apply in situations of civil disobedience to authority, such as non-payment of taxes.

No one would quarrel with Gandhi’s position that converting an adversary is better than coercing him. It would be helpful to acknowledge, however, that there are gradations of conversion and coercion, rather than ironclad contrast between them. In this light, satyagraha can be viewed as a preference for moral conversion and for least coercive transformation. In short, satyagraha seeks minimum violence. The achievement of minimum violence, however, may entail complex case-specific judgments as to degrees of violence and coercion embodied in social institutions before and after transformation, as well as the degree of violence and coercion embodied in various transformative methods. This is a point Gandhi does not express but often seems to practice.

A conception of satyagraha as minimum rather than absolute non-violence comports with other notions Gandhi holds about ahimsa. For Gandhi, bodily life itself represents departure from ahimsa, since bodily life involves matter and himsa, while only the soul is ahimsa. Gandhi does not carry this deeply Jain perspective to its ultimate Jain solution of self-starvation unto death in order to avoid all himsa. (Gandhi does, of course, practice fastsunto-death as satyagraha on particular issues.) Instead, Gandhi concludes that bodily life implicitly requires compromise on issues of ahimsa. The body, vehicle of violence, must be cared for but indulged as little as possible. Because bodily life intrinsically represents departure from pure ahimsa, one arguably cannot expect satyagraha to adhere to absolute non-coercion. Rather, satyagraha succeeds if it conduces to minimum overall violence, though it may entail elements of coercion. this interpretation seems compatible with Gandhian practice, if not with Gandhi’s explicit theory of satyagraha as pure non-coercion.

In Gandhi’s mind, satyagraha refers to more than non-violent action against injustice. It refers also to the practitioner’s spiritual self-cultivation. Satyagraha depends on faith in God. The activist practitioner must cultivate inner ahimsa or love even for the adversary and must also cultivate capacity to bear suffering in pursuit of worthy goals. Capacity to take suffering upon oneself helps minimize the suffering imposed on adversaries by the desired transformation. Inner ahimsa therefore reinforces outward ahimsa.

Because satyagraha is cultivation of inner ahimsa, it can never fail. Even if it falls short of its outward objective, satyagraha inevitably expands ahimsa in the world by expanding the practitioner’s inner non-violence. As Gandhi writes: “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.” In satyagraha, the “minimum is also the maximum” where the only possible movement is advance. Here again, Gandhi’s views differ from Aurobindo’s on evaluating non-violent resistance. To Aurobindo, the value of passive resistance lies exclusively in the outward social change it achieves or fails to achieve.

With all this before us, a caveat requires mention. Gandhi emphatically cautions against viewing satyagraha as some straight-off-the-shelf panacea. It is a severe discipline, first of all, and is not appropriate for all situations of injustice. (Post-Gandhi literature on satyagraha is surprisingly thin. For the best review, explication and synthesis I have found see Strategic Nonviolent Power: The Science of Satyagraha by Mark A. Maitaini.) Gandhi establishes two social corollaries of ahimsa: panchayat raj/sarvodaya on the one hand, satyagraha on the other. Though these corollaries stem directly from Gandhi’s central religious sensibility, they each transcend the boundaries of pure religious ideology and bear directly on organized social action. Because of this, creative Indian socialists have found themselves able to assimilate these Gandhian notions, and in doing so they have made contact with the religious sensibility lying behind them.

Not all of Gandhi’s notions, however, are so fertile. Gandhi’s religious sensibilities sometimes lead him astray. This is especially true of one of his leading ideas, so-called “trusteeship.” By exploring certain vicissitudes and ramifications of “trusteeship,” we can uncover problems in how Gandhi traces out the social logic of ahimsa. We can also see how Gandhi finally transcends, if only partly, those problems.


The notion of “trusteeship” arises in Gandhi’s thought from a simple dilemma in ahimsa. On the one hand, Gandhi favors a non-exploitative order where wealth is used for common rather than for private good. On the other hand, he opposes wealth expropriation from private owners, because this amounts to coercion. What he fears most is violent revolution. He therefore seeks a non-violent means to reach the non-violent end. The ahimsa social economy cannot be sought, he suggests, through means that are themselves violent, such as coerced wealth redistribution. What he proposes instead is that owners should regard themselves as “trustees” of their wealth for the common good. In this way, a non-exploitative economy can arise voluntarily rather than through coercive expropriation.

One can easily stumble over substantial ambiguity in Gandhi’s frequent pronouncements on trusteeship, related issues of private and public ownership, and use of legislation and satyagraha to redistribute wealth. Gandhi wavers almost ceaselessly between aversion to massive private wealth and aversion to state power. No satisfactory interpretation of his shifting pronouncements can be reached without paying close attention to the evolution of his ideas through his career.

In its simple early form, trusteeship is a recipe for altruistic capitalism. In Gandhi’s vision of trusteeship, capitalists retain private ownership, but deploy their capital in the “public interest.” They come to do so under the impact of moral conversion, perhaps resulting from campaigns designed to provoke such conversion. The object, Gandhi claims, is “not to destroy the capitalist,” but to “destroy capitalism.” The destruction of capitalism sounds radical, but Gandhi errs in thinking that this can be accomplished through conversion of capitalists to the spirit of public interest. Gandhi’s reasons for preferring trusteeship over state ownership are revealing. The capitalist, he argues, has a “soul” and is therefore presumably capable of ahimsa, while the state is “soulless” and therefore inextricably violent. In couching things this way, Gandhi overlooks the “soullessness” of the market which, more than personal moral outlook, determines capitalist behavior.

As indicated above, in order to maintain capitalist status in a competitive regime, capitalists must deploy their capital with a fundamental eye toward profit accumulation. To place the “public interest” ahead of profit-making is to lose out in profit competition and jeopardize one’s capacity to maintain capitalist status. Precisely contrary to Gandhi’s formulation, voluntary trusteeship is a formula not for destroying capitalism but for destroying as capitalists its most ardent practitioners. In attempting to follow out the social logic of ahimsa, Gandhi fails to grasp the social logic of capitalism.

With this image of trusteeship, Gandhi succumbs to pure religious ideology, imagining social transformation through private spiritual con-version—in this case, conversion of individual capitalists to more benevolent dispositions. Capitalist benevolence does indeed occur, but largely within constraints set by profit imperatives. It is little wonder that trusteeship manages to win few, if any, true converts. Sometimes it is unclear whether Gandhi even cares about this. Trusteeship is valuable “even if only one man lives up to it,” he writes. This implies that trusteeship is valuable more for the capitalist’s personal moral redemption than for relief of the downtrodden. Gandhi’s concern for personal virtue seems to overshadow concern for social justice.

Gandhi’s trusteeship doctrine fails to comprehend capitalism as a system. Gandhi is more acute when it comes to grasping imperialism as a system. Resistance to the British, he insists, must not attribute the evil of imperialism to particular persons or to the British people as a whole. Imperialism is evil as a system and it is the system that “must be destroyed.” Gandhi argues that imperialism cannot be destroyed through conversion of individual imperialists, but must disappear as a system: hence the importance of satyagraha designed to cripple it. Why then does Gandhi not conclude that capitalism too must be abolished as a system, a task to which efforts at personal conversion are by and large irrelevant?

Gandhi goes through contortions to avoid admitting the inconsistency between attacking imperialism as a system, while attacking capitalism only through conversion. He makes two mistakes that prevent him from noticing this contradiction. The first, criticized above, is to imagine that trusteeship actually does attack capitalism as a “system,” thereby failing to grasp how the profit-driven logic of capitalist decision-making inherently limits altruistic motivation. A second mistake is to insist that satyagraha succeeds only by conversion, not coercion, so that anti-imperialist satyagraha and trusteeship can be seen as parallel non-coercive approaches. Despite Gandhi’s claims, it is difficult to interpret anti-imperialist satyagrahas such as mass non-payment of the salt tax, as coercion-free. It deprives the government of revenue while raising fears of lost control. As argued above, Gandhi fails to reconcile his conceptualization of satyagraha as absolute non-violence with its practice, which frequently entails aspects of coercion. As a result, he fails to see the contradiction between utilizing satyagraha in a systematic and coercive attack on imperialism, while repudiating it for attack on capitalism in favor of personal conversion. Only in his late career does he begin to resolve this contradiction, revising his early ideas on trusteeship and suggesting satyagraha to dissolve wealth disparities.

Gandhi’s notions about trusteeship evolve during the course of his career, along with his views on socialism. The stress in Gandhi’s socialist thought remains throughout on the village production community.

Despite persistent anti-industrialism, however, Gandhi does not—after his very early career—deny need for some large-scale industry. In the 1920s and 1930s, he generally takes the position that limited large-scale industry should exist and remain under capitalist ownership, tempered by trusteeship. During this period, Gandhi sees violent revolution with its coercive expropriation as the sole alternative to voluntary trusteeship. Overtime, however, he begins to distrust his own vision of altruistic capitalism and starts to think increasingly in terms of institutional rather than personal transformation.

Gandhi reads Marx’s Capital in 1942, while jailed for his role in the Quit India Movement. Though Gandhi praises Marx’s “acumen” and describes his experience reading Marx as an “opportunity and privilege,” it is difficult to say what he absorbed or what effect his study may have had. It might, however, have deepened a view of capitalist production as a system of exploitation and an order of ongoing— though camouflaged—violence. Perhaps Gandhi began to view capitalist wealth as an accumulation of congealed violence or himsa in the same way Marx views capital as the accumulation of congealed exploited labor. If Gandhi indeed comes to see things this way, it might strike him that ahimsa would demand efforts to dissolve the congealed but camouflaged violence embodied in private capital. If so, expropriation might suggest itself because it could re-deploy existing capital in ways conducive to diminishing himsa. In any case, during the 1940s Gandhi endorses increasingly recognizable socialist positions, and also begins to imagine battling entrenched wealth with weapons beyond the tepid per-suasion and conversion emphasized earlier.

Gandhi gropes during this period toward the idea of worker-owned firms. His movement in this direction begins at an earlier career stage with exhortations admonishing workers to take responsibility for the firms where they work, “as if they were part owners.” This mirrors his exhortations with employers to act as trustees, “as if ” the wealth be-longed to all. Gandhi hopes to abolish labor-capital conflict and replace it with non-violent harmony. Through most of his career, he sticks to this picture of trusteeship and worker-ownership as states of mind and moral attitude. Owners should “convert” to trusteeship and “regard” their workers as fellow-owners, while workers should “regard” firms as their own and “realize” common cause with owners. There is nothing legally binding, however, about either owner responsibilities as “trustees” or, worker “rights” as part owners.” Trusteeship and imaginary worker-ownership could be called “subjunctive socialism,” captured in the phrase “as if.” Owners and workers both pretend to create through their moral attitudes a system of common ownership that does not exist in actual fact.

With time, Gandhi begins to take the idea of worker-owned firms more seriously as an actual legal arrangement. Throughout his career, he stresses labor organization as a method of constraining the power of wealth within tolerable limits. In his late career, he begins toying with the idea that worker organizations could operate as firms, borrowing capital and hiring salaried managers, but controlling management for their own purposes, sharing profits amongst worker-owners.

In another direction, Gandhi moves toward imagining trusteeship as a statutory arrangement, with trustee prerogatives and responsibilities legally stipulated and state-regulated, not left to whims of owner conscience. Just as worker-ownership evolves from the subjunctive to a legal arrangement, so with the trustee as public officer. Gandhi even begins to imagine trustees as state-salaried managers. To be sure, it is mainly owners who qualify for the office. Nevertheless, Gandhi more and more suggests that ownership and use of wealth should be regulated through legislation. Private wealth is hence socialized, depending on stringency or laxity of regulation.

Gandhi’s move toward statutory trusteeship reflects a growing, though wary, tolerance for state socialism. He never entirely abandons suspicion that state socialism contradicts ahimsa. Even in his early career, however, Gandhi begins to recognize a role for state ownership in large-scale production. He never attempts to reconcile this position with continued defense of capitalist trusteeship. In his late career, however, his pronouncements in favor of state ownership grow more decisive. Capital accumulation under public ownership, he argues, comports with ahimsa, while private capital accumulation does not. “I would have state ownership,” Gandhi writes, “where a large number of people have to work together” and adds that “ownership of the products of their labor, will vest in them through the state.”


Gandhi remains troubled, however, over how to negotiate transition from private to public ownership. He has trouble specifically in deciding whether ahimsa permits confiscation in order to convert private wealth to public wealth or simply redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. In scattered comments, he endorses confiscation “where necessary,” though he worries there is “an element of coercion in it.” He does not specify what “where necessary” means and does not analyze how the coercion involved fits or fails to fit with ahimsa.

It is difficult to say, from comments on confiscation alone, whether Gandhi grows more comfortable with it over time. His growing endorsement of statutory trusteeship, however, does indicate increasing willingness to wield state power against concentrated wealth. It is not far-fetched to assume that this applies also to wealth expropriation. Gandhi seems to associate ahimsa more and more with an image of the democratic state and seems increasingly to see ineradicable himsa in the soulless market.

His acceptance of the state is grudging at best, however. Gandhi increasingly begins to seek some intermediate position between voluntary trusteeship on the one hand, coerced expropriation or violent revolution on the other. He finds it in satyagraha. In his late career, Gandhi speaks more and more of wielding satyagraha not only against imperialism but also against capitalism and other forms of dominance by wealth. Satyagraha, he concludes, is the truest means of bringing socialism to pass. He thus erases contradiction between his treatment of imperialism and his treatment of severe wealth disparity.

Gandhi lays out little theory or program for deploying satyagraha so as to ameliorate wealth disparity or achieve socialism. Strikes and civil disobedience are part of what he has in mind. Otherwise, goals, targets, strategies, methods, organization and scale remain vague. At maximum ambition, satyagraha might involve mass movement civil disobedience the state to pursue socialist agendas. This would pose anomaly for Gandhi however, who so often portrays state action as coercive. Satvagraha makes little sense as an alternative to state action if aimed precisely to secure it.

When focusing on society at large, Gandhi sees big contrast be-tween the state—government action—and satyagraha—citizen action. This contrast disappears at the village level where, in Gandhi’s ideal, the local government or panchayat could be made to function as direct agent of the organized citizenry. The panchayat could legislate redistribution of local wealth and ownership and also, if necessary, organize satyagraha to ensure that recalcitrant owners comply with wealth redistribution. Obscuring the question whether this would work when confronting property rights, Gandhi envisions village satyagraha as a decentralized wealth-transferring device, combining virtues of democracy and ahimsa. The panchayat that organizes both satyagraha and actual wealth redistribution also organizes other aspects of village cooperation. Various corollaries of ahimsa decentralization, democracy, socialism, cooperative production and satyagraha—coalesce in a unified vision of egalitarian community-building.


Discussion so far has not stressed Gandhi’s particular identification with Hinduism. Gandhi sees his personal theology, centered on Truth and Ahimsa, as consistent with various religions. All religions, he thinks, grasp Truth in some fashion worthy of study and respect. He nevertheless identifies as an orthodox Hindu. Hinduism is his own religion, and he feels it best to adhere to one’s own. Just as a good husband may be blind neither to faults in his wife nor to virtues in other women and is nevertheless faithful, so with loyalty to one’s religion.

As self-styled Hindu and socialist, Gandhi runs afoul of caste. Because caste is so obviously central in Hinduism, it must somehow be reconciled with egalitarian aspiration. Gandhi’s treatment is as convoluted as that of Hindu thinkers examined above. A brief sketch will illustrate its family resemblance to views found in Vivekananda, Das, Aurobindo and Pal.

Like those others, Gandhi distinguishes the decadent and hierarchical present-day caste system from the original four-varna social system he attributes to ancient scripture and society. Hierarchy, the “idea of superiority or inferiority” was “wholly repugnant” to the original varna order, which was a system of egalitarian functional division and mutual selfless service. Varna observances, Gandhi indicates, encourage material self-restraint, crucial to moral strength. Limits on interdining and intermarriage put healthy restriction on appetite satisfaction. By the same token, the practice of hereditary occupations puts restraint on using one’s work life to pursue material ambition. This restraint liberates energy for spiritual endeavor.

Just as Gandhi’s views on trusteeship and socialism migrate during his career, so do his views on caste. Over time, Gandhi’s pronouncements on caste display a higher quotient of criticism and a lower quotient of apology. To take but one example, Gandhi in 1921 endorses caste restrictions of interdining and intermarriage, but by 1935 he emphatically repudiates them.

There is, moreover, one respect in which Gandhi hits especially hard against caste practice: his campaign against untouchability. Though he may defend caste as an idealized varna scheme, he cannot square untouchability with ahimsa. Efforts to help Untouchables and eradicate untouchability customs become central to his public persona. His fight against untouchability arises from the same egalitarian sympathies and concern for the downtrodden propelling him toward increasingly strenuous socialism.

Gandhi does not fail to hold Hinduism accountable for untouchability, which he characterizes as an “excrescence” upon Hinduism. He wants Hinduism to redeem itself by repudiating untouchability. He can nevertheless be criticized for downplaying the centrality in Hinduism of hierarchical social attitudes and practices, including those of untouchability. His own commitment to the social logic of ahimsa makes it difficult for him to fathom or recognize the social logic of caste in Hinduism.


Serious ambiguities and weaknesses arise in Gandhi’s socialist thought. Nevertheless, Gandhi forges a more consistent and fertile synthesis of religious and socialist ideas than does any thinker examined above. He traces out the implications of ahimsa and discovers forms of social practice exemplifying it. He links his central religious conception both to organization of social change—satyagraha—and to organization of production—panchayat raj and sarvodaya. Gandhi’s work and advocacy with respect to satyagraha and village reconstruction strongly influence his Marxist compatriots in the nationalist movement. They rethink their socialism not only in light of these Gandhian organizational ideas, but also in light of the religious sensibility behind them. It is through Gandhi that Indian Marxists learn to consider religion.

Meanwhile, despite his insistence on primacy of the spiritual in socialism, Gandhi moves almost in spite of himself toward increasing insight into socialism’s real institutional prerequisites. Gandhi’s relevance for Indian Marxists is reinforced by his late-career adoption of increasingly institutional socialist positions, exemplified in his changing views on trusteeship, public ownership and satyagraha. It is partly Gandhi’s own convergence on socialism that fosters socialism’s convergence on Gandhi.

Continue Reading

Source link

Share with your friends:
Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.