Thoughts on economics and liberty

Gandhiji’s answer to Marxism: Rajaji’s essay March 1959 in which he shows Nehru’s socialism is communism

GANDHIJI’S ANSWER TO MARXISM

I adhere to my doctrine of trusteeship in spite of the ridicule that has been poured upon it.
– MAHATMA GANDHI

As the citizen’s duty of non-violent disobedience enunciated by Thoreau was the basis of the Gandhian struggle against foreign rule, the basis of the Gandhian answer to the modern challenge in the Welfare State is the duty of compassion.

The fulfilment of the citizen’s duty of disobedience led to freedom from foreign rule and the realization of India’s self. The fulfilment of the duty of compassion enunciated in the Upanishads and the Gita and reformulated by Gandhiji will lead to the liberty of the individual and freedom from totali¬tarian governance. A nation enjoying the blessings of minimum government and citizens fulfilling the law of compassion—this was Gandhiji’s answer to the challenge of Marxism.

The duty of compassion is based on religion and flows from an inescapable God-given urge leading to a true one-ness of all life. The identity of oneself with those around should be realized without any external compulsion, and without losing one’s own identity in the process.

As a result of the long continued impact of the baser elements of Western civilization, the glamour of the new and expanding knowledge of the physical world which came as a well-intentioned gift from the West and the onslaught of proselytizing propaganda, India has almost lost her religion. When faith is corrupted by doubts and undermined in the heart, the preservation of ritual does not make up for the loss. There is little of true religion left in the strata permeated by Western influence. But so far as the nation is concerned, it is not wholly lost. If the educated classes, the leaders of society, recover their souls there is time yet to recover lost ground ; and recovered life may even be stronger than the damaged previous possession. India can recover her faith in the values of spirit that her Rshis laid down for the people. It depends on whether the need is recognized by her leaders and the urgency of it realized. If this is done and the discipline of compassion becomes the way of life, we shall be enabled to present an answer to the challenge of the times so far as India is concerned and also set an example to the world.

Marxism, the communists claim, is the only answer to the challenge of the times. We are not prepared to accept that claim. Not only do we consider the violence that historically preceded that way of life, wherever it has been imposed, as a great evil, but we do not want the individual to become a lifeless screw in a vast machine called the State, and that too under continuing State-compulsion. The individual is the only reality. The State is a non-living entity. The Leviathan has no soul. If the individual is wiped out we reduce the nation to a soul-less existence.

It is claimed by ‘ socialists’ that theirs is the alternative answer to the challenge of the times. Reject Marxism, but accept ‘ socialism’ they say. But what is socialism but pure and simple State-compulsion ? In the result the individual dies in the one as in the other. Indeed it is an illusion that the two are different and that the one is an alternative to the other. That it is possible to establish ‘ socialism’ without the violence that accompanied communism but through democratic process does not make it different. Whether the individual is violently made to die, or accepts death without resistance, the resulting death is the same. The individual ceases to exist whether it is murder or suicide.

If we wish to retain the individual and attain the general welfare with his fullest co-operation, the only way is what religion has from time immemorial taught—the duty and discipline of compassion. The sharing of one’s goods with those around one, and of their joys and sorrows, can be done without handing over your soul to a lifeless machine, and as an activity that yields joy to the giver as well as the receiver. It is not necessary for a mother to die for a child to be born. The mother lives for the child she has given birth to without herself losing her life. So also can the individual live and ‘ die’ each moment for the community without losing his life, if the natural law of love and compassion were allowed to work. Compassion is a God-given endowment which makes each lite feel the pain of another and find the pleasure in relieving it as if it were its own pain relieved. It this urge that is in every heart is not killed but made into a way of life, it is the answer to the challenge of the times. The communists always called their way of lite socialism. The Congress’s socialist pattern and the Government’s plans to achieve that pattern may not be introduced with bloodshed but carried out through parliamentary sanction. But the end is the same—a soulless Leviathan taking possession of all personal lite and strangling it to death except for whatever lite is needed to work as a serf. Along with this, compassion itself is killed.

The socialism envisaged by the Government of India, if it is worked with energy and meets with no casualty by reason of corruption, mismanagement and bureaucratic wastefulness or for want of foreign aid, will lead to exactly the same nation-wide state of compulsion and serfdom as we condemn communism for. There is no socialist country in the world which has achieved its aim without wiping out the individual and atrophying the human mind, without converting the entire community into a body of slaves, without creating a privileged class to run the machine. India’s experiment even if successful will only end in that result.

The true alternative to the Marxian answer to the call of the times is not an illusory copy of it, or a preparation for surrendering to it, but something quite different in character and in its fundamental basis. The doctrine of trusteeship adumbrated by Gandhiji, namely, that rich people should hold their superfluous wealth as trustees for the poor and that this way of life should be inculcated by example as well as precept without compulsion or cruelty is the only true alternative to Marxism. It is entirely different in character from the Marxian solution. It is based on religion, the antithesis of which is the Marxian foundation.

Gandhiji had no time to expand and illustrate the way of life which he adumbrated. But he definitely put it forward as his alternative both to Marxism and socialism.

Indeed at the root of this doctrine of equal distribution must lie that of the trusteeship of the wealthy for superfluous wealth possessed by them. How is this to be brought about ? Nonviolently ? Or should the wealthy be dispossessed of then possessions ? To do this we would naturally have to resort to violence. This violent action cannot benefit society. Society will be the poorer, for it will lose the gifts of a man who knows how to accumulate wealth. Therefore the non-violent way is evidently superior. The rich man will he left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the society. In this argument honesty on the part of the trustee is assumed.

Those who own money now are asked to behave like the trustees holding their riches on behalf of the poor. You may say that trusteeship is a legal fiction. But, if people meditate over it constantly and try to act up to it, then life on earth would be governed far more by love than it is at present. Absolute trusteeship is an abstraction like Euclid’s definition of a point, and is equally unattainable. But if we strive for it, we shall be able to go further in realizing a state of equality on earth than by any other method.

Complete renunciation of one’s possessions is a thing which very few even among ordinary folk are capable of. All that can legitimately be expected of the wealthy class is that they should hold their riches and talents in trust and use them for the service of society. To insist on more would be to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.

It is not on mere authority that this solution is presented now. It is presented on its own merits for acceptance as a way of life which would be in accordance with the ancient dharma of our land and save the nation from chaos and oppression and loss of soul. It is a way of life, besides, that will give true happiness such as is not available otherwise.

It may seem that what is suggested is to hand over the whole problem to the sweet will and pleasure of the rich. It is not the case at all. When dharma is made to prevail over the land, misconduct invites the great and powerful sanction of social obloquy and personal unhappiness. It is the only non-violent way of reaching our goal. Any other would end in soul-killing compulsion. Any form of compulsion to produce the behaviour we seek to establish is not a way of life, but just prison discipline. A way of life must be voluntary and this means we should bring about a change of heart among people in general which is the function of a revival of religion in its true and substantial sense.

The question is whether we want a way of life or only prison discipline. We have seen prisons and know what they are like. No argument should be necessary to prefer that which alone can produce a way of life, viz., a revival of dharma and a re-installation of higher values, and in particular the revivification of love and compassion inherent in human nature which has only been suppressed and overwhelmed, not destroyed by the incrustation of so much that is contrary to it. The pain that one automatically feels at. the sight of another’s pain is an inescapable gift of God to the human soul, though the gift is in the nature of a pain and a burden. It is a natural urge that makes a person one with those around him. Out of this fundamental pain or urge issues the doctrine of holding the goods one holds as in trust for others also and not only for oneself. Such a trust is a joy and a privilege to the individual.

Compassion based on dharma is a noble urge different from the vulgarity of condescension. It is a way of life that forges a union. Co-operation is good, but it is only joint adventure. Compassion welds people into a single and indivisible entity. Unity with those around one, with individuated life for oneself, is the secret of healthy citizenship. The individual should live fully, eagerly and purposefully and not become just a bolt or a screw or a lifeless brick, lost in a machine or a masonry construction. If this is to be achieved, neither socialism nor Marxism is the way but only the dharma re-emphasized by Gandhiji.

To revive and strengthen religion and the consciousness of pious obligation would achieve general welfare and happiness preserving the spirit of industry as well as of brotherhood, without damaging the value of individual human personality or the graces of life. This is better than trying to achieve our object through the deadening influence of organizational compulsion even were it granted that it could achieve the goal.

What is recommended may seem to be a long road but shorter roads do not lead to the goal though they may give sadist satisfaction. The long road leads to the goal and as we go along it we find and give joy and betterment all along at every stage and what we do binds the people together as no compulsion can do, be it brute force or the coercion of status.

No doubt, the fanaticism brought about by bloodshed and cruelty can produce a new way of life without waiting long. But if we do not like this, there is no choice. If we do not want subterfuge, wide-spread discontent and corruption, and failure, we must go through the long road. Spurious imitations and eye-washes can be achieved easily but big things cannot be reached non-violently except through the long road. We must patiently work and attain the wide-spread spiritual conviction which is the essential basis and condition for making an ancient people accept a way of life not based on compulsion. We must put forth the stamina and personal conviction and the patience required for leading a religious and spiritual revolution. Fortunately the way of life we want is not wholly dissociated from the highest traditions of the land and the revolution we desire is only a re-assertion of the principles of religion this nation has always unquestioningly accepted. [Sanjeev: in a sense, my recent work on Ram rajya being capitalism proves this point, although I don’t come to it from any religious perspective]

March 14, 1959

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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