We have experienced that neither Capitalism nor Socialism can be expected to promote the highest well-being of the masses. The mistake of both of them is that they are primarily interested in producing the greatest amount of material wealth, the capitalist for himself, and the socialist for all the members of the community. Hence it is that both of them adopt centralised methods of production. In addition to securing for the worker an abundance of material wealth, the socialist tries hard to promote human self-development. We have seen, however, the small degree of success this has achieved. You cannot, it would seem, have both. You cannot serve God and mammon. If this is so, it is obvious that if the socialist’s goal of well-being for all is to be realised, it is such well-being and not more abundance of goods that should be the basis on which we should build the economic order. Self development at all costs, even if it means – less material wealth—that should be our slogan. Otherwise we are apt to continually sacrifice self-development for material wealth as the socialist appears to do.
This point is so important and yet seems to be so little realised today that it is well to develop it still further especially as it constitutes the basis of the new type of economic order which we have called an “Economy of Non-Violence” (ENV). Under Capitalism the efficiency of a method of production is judged not by whether, it helps or hinders human development, but by whether it is capable of turning out cheap goods which can be sold at competitive prices in the open market. We have become so accustomed in regarding cheapness as the mark of efficiency that it never occurs to us to ask whether we are right in doing so. Let us see.
Is cheapness or acquisition of material wealth all that people want? Formally, we might ask, would people want wealth that has been stolen, or that has been obtained by murder? Who would be willing, for example, to buy a bracelet which he knows to have been torn from the arm of an innocent child who has been murdered in the process and thrown in the jungle? Wealth is something we desire no doubt, but not when it is so obtained. Moral considerations outweigh economic values. If the bracelet were sought to be sold to those who knew how it was obtained, there would hardly be anybody who could be tempted to buy it, however cheap it might be sold.
A person will feel insulted if you tell him that he cares for nothing beyond money. And yet economists have dealt with human beings as though there is no other motive in human affairs than avarice — the grim law of supply and demand working like a soulless machine determining every detail of human economic life. Once these laws are framed by the economist, they are regarded as fixed and eternal as any law of nature; and, what is worse, people begin to believe in them and shape their economic policies in their light. What may have been but a distorted view of human nature, harmless if confined to textbooks, is unfortunately taken seriously and put into effect, and makes people behave like the monsters that economists have imagined them to be — money-making machines engaged solely in accumulating wealth, or so many pigs glutting themselves without looking beyond their snout.
Thus the economist seeks to study the laws that control the management of business. She or he assumes that business is business and that all other considerations, even if existent, are irrelevant to his field of study. And then they proceed to formulate laws as though for the human being nothing matters besides acquisition of wealth.
Yet as we have just pointed out, the human being is not a purely economic being. They have other interests besides wealth— intellectual, moral, social, aesthetic and religious interests, and when they come into play, they often completely override the economic motive. This being so, it is folly to dismiss them as of no importance, since they control human life as much as any economic motive.
An economy of nonviolence starts by seeking to rectify this initial error underlying the prevailing economic schools of thought. It takes the human being as they are, a complex being, actuated by hopes, ideals and aspirations, and not merely dominated by the desire for economic gain. And it seeks to outline an economic order which can ultimately satisfy this human being. Obviously such an individual cannot be content with mere economic goods. Cheapness obtained at the cost of these higher values, is something that this human being will reject when they know how it has been obtained.
An economic system which seeks the well-being of all is in the end also the cheapest for the community, as it will save expenditure on elaborate organisation and machinery for quelling disruptive forces working against its interests. We have found that under capitalism civil strife and war are inevitable, while under socialism they were still a possibility. So long as that is so, much of the wealth of the people is wasted on the police, the army, and weapons of defence; and not only material wealth but also human lives are sacrificed without counting the cost. In the end, then, a system in which there is less likelihood of strife and war may, even considered from the purely economic point of view, be more satisfactory than one which inspite of producing an abundance of wealth during peace, has to expend it and more in times of internal conflict and war.
Here then is a fundamental principle on which an economy of nonviolence rests – that human well-being and not mere material wealth constitutes the basis on which alone any sound and stable economic edifice can be built. Or, in Gandhian language, the solid criterion to be used in testing, an economic system is nonviolence. If a system leads to suppression of the individual, exploitation, or prevention of their developing to the fullest—all of which are cases of doing violence or injury to them — it stands self-condemned, however much material wealth it may bring. The goal of such an economy is spiritual, the goodness or badness of an economic method of production being tested, not by the amount of material wealth it brings, but by whether it promotes the greatest amount of non-violence or in other words, self-development, cooperation, unselfishness, and brotherliness amongst human beings.
Basic Principles of Non-Violent Economy
Keeping self-development of the individual or human well-being as our goal, we must seek to formulate the principles on which we may build our economic system. Whatever this system may or may not secure for us, it must not be said of it that it cannot lead to human well-being or the develop¬ment of even the humblest. At the same time that it leads to individual human development, it must lead also to the development of the ‘neighbours’ or the community as a whole. The individual and the society to which they belong must thus find their good in each other, the individual losing themselves for the good of the group, to discover that thus they have found themselves, and the group seeking the good of even the least of its members, and only in this way finding the justifica¬tion of its existence.
The trouble with capitalism was that it allowed full freedom to the individual to pursue their ends, never mind what happened to others, with the result that it led to selfishness, greed and social injustice. Socialism, on the other hand, was eager to secure the good of all, but in the process, owing to its clinging to large-scale production, it tended to sacrifice the freedom of the individual for the good of the group. We err, therefore, if we seek the good of the individual apart from the group, or the good of the group apart from the individu¬al. For this reason an economy of nonviolence bases itself on the via media between these two extremes. And if Hegel is right in claim¬ing that truth lies neither in the thesis nor in the antithesis, but in the synthesis which holds together within itself the partial truths of the thesis and the antithesis, then we may claim that our solution is valid in principle. To use the language of the socialist’s dialectic, we move here from the thesis of capitalism (uncontrolled individual freedom, unmindful of social good) and the antithesis of socialism (complete social control, unmindful of individual freedom) to the synthesis of an economy of nonviolence or individual freedom, which finds its good only in the good of all.
An economy of nonviolence, on the other hand, which seeks to do justice to the soul of goodness both in capitalism and in socialism, thus accepting what is good in both of them, is, synthetic, and therefore, from this point of view also, true to our own genius. And, what is more, this synthetic attitude, which refuses to condemn and destroy wholesale but is glad to wel¬come and retain after modification, is the only one consistent with nonviolence. India had discovered from her experience with the several races and tribes, which lived within her borders, that the only way by which she could hold them together and prevent endless internecine feud and bloodshed, was through inculcating in them the spirit of ‘live and let live’, the spirit, in the last analysis, of nonviolence, which unwilling to aggravate and perpetuate conflicting elements, seeks to reconcile and synthesise them.
An economy of nonviolence may, from this point of view, be regarded as nothing but an expression, in the economic realm, of the nonviolent soul of India. It is the solution which India has to offer today out of her rich heritage to a world torn by strife and violence, and eagerly groping for a way out of the desperate situation in which it finds itself.
As for the lines along which we should proceed in order to attain the ideal which an economy of nonviolence sets before itself, we obtain guidance from the principles which we found to un¬derlie our own ancient economic organisation. We saw that in those days individuals were free to carry on their enter¬prise as best they could, but only within the limitations set for them by society. Neither private enterprise, it would seem, is evil in itself, nor social control. It is only when private enterprise exceeds its limits and works to the detriment of others that it is evil. Similarly, social control is not evil in itself. It is only, when social control exceeds its limits and deprives the individual of initiative that it becomes evil. That being so, our solution should be one which has room in it both for private enterprise and for social control. If we would preserve the liberty of the individual, which socialism tends to take away, and at the same time see that the interests of the community are not sacrificed, as happens under capitalism, it would seem that that, the individual should be allowed to think and plan production as best they can, though at the same time be curbed, in the interests of the group, from misusing their liberty. This double purpose requires to be kept constantly in mind, and can be served by a two fold method, which we may call (A) Decentralisation in produc¬tion, and (B) Swadeshi or localization in consumption.
(A) Decentralisation in Production
This means that as far as possible all enterprise should be left in the hands of individuals who carry it on, not in factories, but each under their own roof, so far as they have the capacity to run their own business. Those pursuing the same occupation may of course join together and work co-opera¬tively. But the unit for which they produce will be strictly limited. It will be the village to which they belong, or a small group of adjacent villages, which will form a corporate whole and aim to be self-sufficient for its primary require¬ments. In regard to some articles, of course, the unit of self-sufficiency will vary, and may be, as large as a block or taluka, a district or even a whole state. There need be there¬fore no rigidity in maintaining the principle of self-sufficiency.
Only it should be borne in mind that, as far as possible, whatever can be produced in the village for the needs of its inhabitants should be produced there, especially in respect of essential requirements like food and clothing. For the rest, the village may depend on industries run by itself in co¬operation with neighbouring villages; or where this is not possible, they may be run by the State for the needs of the regions concerned.
Judging from our past, our genius, or traditional mode of behaviour as a people, seems to be along the lines of decentralisation. We have seen this to be true of our ancient economic organisation, where the village was the ultimate unit of production. In political life also each village was self-contained, being governed by its own Panchayat or Village Councils. Similarly, Hinduism, the religion of the vast majority of our people, has never believed in centralising faith. On the other hand, it has left the individual free to believe whatever appeals to them in regard to ultimate problems, provided the action of the individual is not anti-social. Hence it is that there has never been in Hinduism any attempt to convert people to one standardised creed, as happens for example in other great faiths like Christianity or Islam. And in worship, Hinduism is individualistic, while worship in a church or a mosque is congregational. Our music also is essentially individualistic, for it is melody pure and simple, unlike western music which is built round harmony, or the coordination of several divergent notes to mingle together to produce jointly an agreeable effect. It would be an interesting study to develop this theme also in regard to other fields of thought and activity, to show that our genius formed and developed through the centuries lies in decentralisation. Not that we lacked organising power, which is necessary for centralisation, but that whatever organisation we had—for example the joint-family, caste, or self sufficient village economy—was directed to safeguarding and protecting the average run of individuals against the activities of selfish or wicked persons. The organisation which we associate with large-scale produc¬tion, on the other hand is not of this kind, but aims at collect¬ing large numbers of people together, not for protection but for aggression, not for guarding the weak against the strong but for making the strong stronger and more efficient.
The Place of Centralised Industries in Decentralised Production
We have already stated that not all industries of a coun¬try can be run thus on a small-scale. There will be need for centralised production in the case of (1) key industries, i.e., industries which provide the machinery, fuel and raw mate¬rials for small industries. Thus, for example, if we are to have sewing machines we need factories where they can be produced. Similarly, if electricity or coal is required as fuel, it cannot be supplied by each man running his own centre of supply; and if raw materials such as chemicals are to be used, factories will be essential. Or pulp for paper-making may be produced with the aid of power and distributed to village paper-makers. So also (2) public utilities like railways, telegraph, and telephone, require centralised manufacture and control. As by their very nature they cannot be under-taken by the village artisan locally, they will have to be conducted in a centralised way for the benefit of all by the State, or on a cooperative basis by the people, with no eye to profit but entirely for service of the community.
So far as all other industries go, they will be carried out on a decentralised cottage basis. In other words, large-scale produc¬tion will not enter into competition with decentralised cottage production. The two spheres will be kept distinct, and large-scale production undertaken only where it cannot be helped, and to aid cottage production.
Place of Science and Machinery in Decentralised Production:
Till now science has concerned itself with the problems of large scale production. But under this new economy, it will devise ways and mean of aiding the cottage producer in improving his implements, processes and technique. The aim will not be as now to bring in as much wealth as possible for the machine-owner by exploiting the labour of hundreds of others, but to make the work lighter for the cottage producer. The need of the producer will be the motive behind research, and not selfishness and greed. The scientist will have even more scope than now for research under this new scheme of things, for while it is easy to invent expensive and complicated ways of improving production, it is not so easy to devise simple and inexpensive improve¬ments such as a village producer with limited resources can adopt.
It is often thought that an economy of nonviolence advocates a return to the primitive, a turning away from all that science makes possible. If it did so, it would indeed be a grievous fault and grievously shall it suffer for it. But there is no reason why it should turn away from science. There is no virtue after all in stick¬ing to the old. On the other hand, there is every reason why we should apply our intelligence to make work lighter and life more enjoyable. As we have already said, intelligence is given to aid us in our struggle for existence, and if we refuse to use it, it will but decay and die. Science therefore must by no means be discarded. It must still remain our light and guide – teaching us new ways of tackling old problems, and making us more and more efficient in the performance of our tasks. Only its role will be different.
Hence it is that in an economy of nonviolence the one condi¬tion that is laid down in regard to machinery is that it should not centralise production. All other machinery which will aid the cottage worker to do his work with speed, ease and comfort will be welcome.
B. Swadeshi (localisation) in Consumption:
One of the best ways of preventing manufacture of goods without limit, then dumping them on other people upsetting economic equilibrium and producing unemploy-ment among them, is to inculcate in people the ideal of Swadeshi, i.e. their duty to purchase goods produced by their immediate neighbours rather than goods imported from elsewhere. This means that in economic reconstruc¬tion, the aim should be to make the village, or a group of four or five villages, self-sufficient for their primary require¬ments, so that all the fundamental wants of the people can be adequately met by the group itself. Each unit will then be using goods, produced by itself in preference to goods from outside; and so if a person wishes to increase his business so as to supply also the needs of others than those who belong to his unit, they will find that no one else will buy their goods. Thus they will be prevented from developing into a large-scale manufacturer. If the articles produced elsewhere are more attractive than those produced locally, they will not be allowed to flood out the local product, but the local artisan will be required to improve his production to come up to the standard of the foreign product. In this way consumers will limit themselves to, and help to improve, local production.
Too long have human considerations been carefully exclu¬ded from the economic sphere. If India is not to follow the industrialized countries of the world into exploiting the masses, impoverishing and enslaving weaker people, and plunging people into periodical strife and bloodshed, and if in accordance with her spiritual heritage she is to show an oppressed and war-worn world the way to freedom and peace for all peoples, her only means is the establishment of an economic order which will deliberately aim at making production and consumption of a kind which will enable her people to be strong and capable of looking after themselves, without however having any need to exploit the weak or go to war with the strong. The principles of an economy of nonviolence have been formulated precisely with this aim in view. When through decentralisation, the people have opportunities for acquiring strength, courage and self-reliance, and through Swadeshi they have learnt to cooperate and work for the good of their neighbours, they will not only have achieved for themselves freedom from exploitation and slavery, but also be a powerful influence for bringing about freedom from exploitation, and good-will among men. Under such a system we may be poorer in this world’s goods, but we shall be on the way to establishing non-violence and peace on the secure foundations of economic life.
The method to be employed is the simplest possible. Not a violent revolution conspired and effected by a group of individuals, but the non-violent, decentralised method depending on the understanding and good-will of every citizen. We have to persuade our innumerable villages to work towards self-sufficiency in production and consumption.
Nay more, even if you live in the city, and I, and every consumer in our country can at once help to bring about this new economic order if we willed to buy only products of decentralised manufacture. Do we care sufficiently for the abolition of the poverty of our people, and to make ourselves into a strong, self-reliant, well-knit, independent people, not bowings our heads to the foreigner, now and in the future, the remedy is in our own hands—to promote village production by consuming as far as possible only products of cottage manufacture, and by working for village self-sufficiency if not directly at least by refusing to buy anything but what is produced by our own village neighbours. When we do this, no foreigner will care to take possession of our land; for all that the foreigner aims at by his aggression are our raw materials and our markets. And even if they do invade the country, our people will have acquired, by managing their affairs themselves, sufficient resourcefulness, courage and non-¬violent strength to resist him and set his efforts at naught.
By this simple, non-violent method, then, we shall be able to establish ourselves as a free, industrious and prosperous people, simple in living perhaps, but high in thought and culture, in direct line of descent from our own great spiritual past, and able to show to a world mad with lust for wealth and power, and torn with strife and war, the way to abiding peace, freedom, progress, and good-will amongst the
members of the human family.
Whether our arguments have been convincing or not, everyone must admit, whatever type of economic order they advocate for our adoption in the future, that the best we can do at the present, when our people are dying by inches through starvation and disease, and we are helpless to move the Government, is to strive to do all we can as individuals to make the villager, even with the very limited resources available to him, a little more prosperous. It is certain that even political freedom will mean little if our masses, the bulk of whom live in the villages, are not profitably employed, and do not have at least some of the amenities of civilised life. Let us not then waste our time in idle controversy, but act; begin with what¬ever little can be done here and now, leaving the next step to reveal itself in its turn. We do not need to see the distant scene: one step enough for us. What we can do, we have outlined in the preceding pages. It is for each to pick out from the programme what suits him or her best—be it village sanitation, health, diet, education, social reform, anti-untouchability, communal harmony, work amongst women, co-operation, child-welfare, youth movement, recreation, litera¬ture, art, religion, agriculture or industries, and the rest will follow in due time. The field is vast and varied, and calls for the best efforts of all, men and women, officials and non-officials. We may differ in our views in regard to what is ultimately good for the country. But let us not in fighting over issues relating to the future, neglect our duty in the present—the duty which we owe to our fellowmen in the village.