Thoughts on economics and liberty

Freedom under socialism: 1958 essay by Rajagopalachari

AT the Sastri Hall, at a recent meeting, Mr. Arabindo Basu, Professor of Indian Philosophy at the Durham University, gave a thought-provoking talk on socialism on the background of a recent visit to Israel. Mr. Basu’s point was that socialism—any form of it, anywhere—must end in complete regulation of life and the total subordination of the individual to the State. This was inevitable, he said, so far as economic matters go, and in this respect Mr. Basu saw no difference between a communist State and one run under ‘ socialism ‘ as in Israel.

He expressed the fear that with economic control, the freedom of thought and freedom of culture also generally disappear, which need not, according to him, happen. He suggested, and this was his main theme in the lecture, that even though in the modern age, the citizen was doomed to be swallowed up by the State as far as economic matters go, the ‘ soul’ of society may be So tended as to leave the citizen free in thought and culture.

As far as I can see, this appears to be a vain hope. Once we grant to the State the right or the opportunity to swallow the ‘ body ‘, to use the figure which Mr. Basu employed, the ‘ soul’ must go with it. If the economic lite of the people and of every one of the individuals composing them, must be under complete regulation, the rulers will easily see that they must obtain a ‘ willing’ obedience to such regulation. And how can ‘ willing’ obedience be got except by moulding the brains of the citizens and by indoctrination from childhood upwards ? The root of action is in thought, and if action and behaviour must be regulated, thought and culture must be shaped to it. No administration can achieve an escape from evasions by mere statutory compulsion. This is true in greater measure when the population to be regulated is very large as in Russia, China or India, and is of heterogeneous levels of educational equipment. What can be achieved in a very small State cannot be hoped for in a continental area and a population that has grown up in mutual isolation over a variety of regions. Statutory compulsion by itself must result in corruption and evasion. Regulation would be very largely nullified by disobedience and fraud to which the bureaucracy soon adjusts itself. The mind of the people would have to be brought under complete subjection it regulation in economic matters must succeed in any adequate measures. Inner law must supplement the external statutes.

And this means the totalitarian training of the mind, intense and all-pervading indoctrination, the idolisation of the State and all claims to individual freedom of thought and expression treated as heresy and treason. There can be no freedom of thought or of culture in a State which is run on the theory of complete economic State control of the citizen’s life. Temporarily and in the published statutes we might have freedoms of some kind, but the ultimate point that must be reached inevitably is the destruction of all freedoms.

So much for Mr. Arabindo Basu’s thesis. There are some hopeful critics of Soviet Russian life, who have been analysing and watching trends in that country, who believe that signs are not lacking that people ( though as yet only a small number ) are coming into existence even in the communist world who dare to probe the limits of State control and attempt to overstep bounds. These Western critics believe that the future may belong to these heretics of the communist world who desire to break the slavery of the communist citizen : that is, that economic control may at last break down and with it the control of thought and culture also. This is perhaps more an expression of the critics’ own faith in freedom as an ultimate natural urge than accurate prognosis. But, even if true, it is not a contradiction of what has been stated above in connection with Mr. Arabindo Basu’s thesis that total economic control must inevitably lead to the other and more deadly control—control of thought and opinion, control of soul as one may briefly put it. If this is to he avoided, it cannot be done otherwise than by renouncing the doctrine of complete economic surrender of the citizen to the State, which is at the root of the mischief. We cannot eat our cake and have it. If freedom of thought and culture are precious and must be retained, we must bear with something short of egalitarian socialism in the material plane.

As regards the shape of socialism itself, high taxation may take the place of complete State ownership and a residue of freedom may be left with which the individual may be taught to be content. But there is a limit to such taxation. Beyond that limit, socialism through direct and indirect taxation may become even less sufferable than total State ownership. With State ownership of land and factories goes responsibility also, as it does with a master’s ownership of his slave in the institution of slavery ; but an unbearable rate of taxation does not relieve the citizen of the worries of ownership and management. Losses during some years are not taken into account by the tax-gathering State which knows how to tax in good years but not to rehabilitate or compensate for bad years. These observations are of great importance in a country where socialism has preceded prosperity, of which India is an example. Wealth cannot be produced by equalization but only by eagerness to produce wealth. The time for egalitarianism arrives only after nationwide production of wealth based on individual incentive ; otherwise we must reconcile ourselves to a rigid scientifically conceived plan with coercion, slave-driving and complete control of life and soul.

If we desire real and substantial freedom of thought and culture we must be free from the total control that socialism under communism imposes as well as from the privation and misery and atrophy of interest which oppressive taxation under national socialism brings about. It is the middle path of moderation alone that can conserve the freedom of the soul and all the humanitarian emotions that make up civilization.

August 16, 1958

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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