Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

Hind Swaraj : A Historical Necessity

Nandkishore Acharya

Books have always been the inspiration of civilizations. Although it is true that a book has never been transformed into any civilization in its entirety—for human life cannot be contained within the pages of a book, yet a book can often be seen to have been the pivotal inspiration of a civilization. From the beginning of civilization to mediaeval times religious and spiritual books like the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas and the Upanishadas have enjoyed this primacy or centrality. But after the mediaeval times or because the views upheld in religious literature came under question due to the evolution of modern science, although they did remain significant, they lost their position as the prime movers of civilization. As a natural corollary to this, books that dealt with the physical or economic world, came into significance, replacing the religious books as the basis of civilizations. Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species may be one such book but for the present let us concentrate on three such works one of which is Hind Swaraj—which can be seen as inspiration for our present—modern times.

The first of these books is The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, published in 1776. The European mind, before the publication of this book was experiencing a sense of liberation and freedom from the shackles of superstition and the desire of the freedom of the individual as opposed to any imposed discipline was getting strengthened because of the renaissance. It was the realization of this freedom that served as the basic metaphysical impulse and the pivotal inspiration for the development of democracy in England, the French Revolution and the American War of Independence. It was being widely recognized that economic freedom is an important basic factor for individual freedom. John Locke was of the view that the right to property is an important constituent of individual freedom. Economic freedom was considered an important dimension of individual freedom and hence any intervention of the state or any outside agency was considered a transgression of individual freedom. This intervention was considered undesirable not only on moral grounds but on economic grounds as well for competition was necessary in the market to control prices and generate efficiency in the services in the market, and availability of quality goods and services at low prices for the consumer and the society were expected to be the natural outcomes of this. An ideal market was believed to be that in which both the producer and the consumer have the freedom and the power to negotiate freely and that was believed possible in the free market economy only. It was on the basis of this argument that Adam Smith proposed his theory of free market economy. He was of the view that with increase in production, employment opportunities will also increase and if the state does not interfere with the market processes then an invisible hand will distribute this production and development to the lowest strata of the society. The logical/economic basis of the policy of liberalizations being followed and advocated all around had already been postulated by Adam Smith in his book.

Globalization is the natural or the international or multinational kin of this liberalization, for on the ground on which interference of the state is undesirable in the national market, on the same ground in the international context also the intervention of the state will be considered uncalled for. Supporters of globalization argue that subsidy, privileges or special facilities by the state to the producer in any country is a suppression of healthy market practice for which the consumer will ultimately have to bear the brunt. Hence on both economic and moral grounds in both national and international situations a free market economy proves to be more useful. It establishes human freedom in the economic realm as well and guarantees the satisfaction of the society’s needs and keeps a check on prices. But in actuality the free market that has evolved in the wake of Adam Smith’s formulations has given the lie to his theorization, negating his own conclusions. The development of technology involved in the processes of production has resulted in weakening the role of labour in the production and we are now faced with what the economists call jobless growth which implies that though production increases employment opportunities decrease. This situation is not the result of the failure of the present system of economy but of its success. Increased production indicates development, it is a factor indicative of development and acceleration in production necessitates new technologies and is called high rate of development in the language of economics to achieve which, technological transformation is imperative, which implies the adoption of that technology through which the highest rate of production be achieved through the least involvement of human labour. An unavoidable outcome of this is the reduction of employment opportunity which in turn results in reduction in the purchasing power of the people and as is evident, no increase in production can be dependable without increase in purchasing power of the people. It will be hit by cycles of depression again and again.

Even if we forget the artificial demands that this blind increase in production has generated following Marshall the damage to the environmental balance, the two great and innumerable small wars that we have suffered and the dumping of ammunition in the market resulting from competition—even then—from purely economic point of view as well the present situation has given the lie to Adam Smith’s own theorization. When Adam Smith spoke of the free market and open economy he had also warned that centralization of market will not let economy remain free in the true sense, and the irony of the situation is that it is impossible to control economic centralization without the intervention of the state. Adam Smith wanted to keep big competition, likely to become tyrannical, out of the market. In the liberalized globalization the market is being strangled by monopolizing faces. Mutual agreements between multinational companies do not allow the market to remain free and competitive in the true sense. This form of globalization is being called corporate globalization. David Korten in his study When Corporations Rule the World has shown that the seemingly separate multinational companies and national companies have become so interconnected and intertwined that it is no longer possible to call it competition in any clear terms. Talking of two global agricultural companies Kargil and Archer Daniels Midland and their collaboration the outcome of which is that while earlier out of every dollar spent on food forty one percent went to the farmer now only nine percent of it goes to him, even as the consumer is having to pay more. The famous business manager Cyrus Freidheim has come to the conclusion that soon the world economy will be governed by what may be called relationship enterprise. Ever the state will not be able to control this kind of monopoly for the state itself will be weaker than them—perhaps in the same manner that the native Indian states had become weaker than the East India Company!

David Korten explains that the corporate world of today first creates an artificial competition. At one level the companies remain connected with each other and at another generate and promote competition between smaller ancillary companies connected with them peripherally as a result of which the bigger share of the capital invested comes from the smaller companies and yet the lion’s share of the profit goes to the bigger companies of the corporate world. Another outcome of this is that the smaller companies are either absorbed by the larger corporations or they are reduced to functioning as agents of the latter.

Adam Smith’s free market can remain an actual possibility only in a decentralized economy which in practice is actually being routed out by the market itself. Keynes also had said that philosophy, art and literature can be seen in a universal context but products should be homespun only and economies are better national. The homespun that Keynes is talking of is possible only through swadeshi, for the true ideal to be sought is human freedom, for not only is it moral but it is the very basis, the only way to the social, political and economic wellbeing of humanity. And it is in this sense that the moral and the economic are interdependent and symbiotic.

The second book in the context is The Communist Manifesto. Adam Smith’s economics did establish the significance of capital in accordance with his argument but the invisible hand that was to have distributed the production to the lowest strata of the society not only failed to deliver but the competition of capital and its contestations not only sowed the seeds of wars but the mad race of development that ensured poison the earth. With a remarkably astute understanding of this Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels suggested an alternative. In the Communist Manifesto they envisaged a society in which the benefits of the production could be reached to the lower strata in the real sense and nurture human freedom. The critics of communism who think it generates oppression forget that the aim is to establish a society in which the freedom of each one to develop is the necessary precondition to the free development of all. Evidently like Adam Smith the pivotal value here also is freedom which is realized through the distribution of the benefits of the production to all. According to the manifesto the greatest obstacle to human freedom is the class stratification of the society due to which the class of the society in control of the means and tools of production exploits and oppresses the dispossessed, depriving them of their freedom. The manifesto suggests that the deprived class assume rule through revolution and with the ruling power develop an economy which can create a classless society. According to Marx the state is a protector of class interests, therefore, in a classless society the state will also wither away  and that will be the basis of a really free society.

The Communists Manifesto attempts, through an analysis of history to establish a scientific basis for this hypothesis. Perhaps Marx’s most insightful observation is that the production relations—means and tools of production—are the foundations upon which the superstructure of society is created and the change in means and tools of production, that is, the change in technology changes the production relations and therefore become the basis for the change in the superstructure of the society.

This observation of Marx is similar to the category of historians who study the development of human race from the perspective of technological advancement. These historians hold that the creation and discovery of a new technology presents new possibilities for development for humanity that not only change the means and tools of production and production processes and economy but also impacts the entire social structure and culture. Studying the history of the technological inventions of the human race historian Herald Innis had recognized that every new invention after some time instead of remaining a mere tool, itself becomes the maker—for once invented these tools in combination with other tools start to innovate the man himself. By innovation of man Innis implies new relationships for man, for human relationship is one of the main dimensions of what we call culture. If culture is the name of the structuring of the relations of the self with the other then the changes that come into being in human relationships because of a change in technology will also be perforce called a cultural change and then technology can no longer be thought to be objective in terms of values. Perhaps this is what the authors of The Communist Manifesto and their followers failed to perceive. Analyzing the processes of generating capital in a capitalist society and the class division resulting therefrom, they were unmindful of the fact that a classless society cannot be developed using the means and tools of production that generate a capitalist society even though the ruling power be in support. From this point of view the socialist revolution should have begun with a revolutionary change in the means and tools of production. After coming to power this is what should have been done in Soviet Russia. It would have been possible to change the production processes and means and tools of production with the help of the ruling power and thereby the production relationships, but the biggest blind spot not only of the soviet socialist regime but all socialist regimes was that they undertook the unscientific attempts to change the socio-economic relationships without first bringing the concomitant change in the means and tools of production—the technology.

This inner contradiction manifest in Marx’s own primary insight grows and further develops in Lenin and other policy planners and no one realized the folly of trying to create a classless society through the means and tools of production that had given rise to capitalism. It should have become evident through Marxian analysis itself that unless the means and tools of production are changed, whether it be Soviet Russia or any other so called socialist regime or superstructure they will be driven to adopt the economic processes of the capitalist regimes. Karl Marx himself failed to take stock of this contradiction. The capitalist monopoly that is associated with large scale industrialization was what Marx had said was the basis of the abolition of private property. In German Ideology Marx writes that the contradiction between the means and tools of production and private property arises for the first time and this is the result of large scale industry alone. But he also states that it is important to develop large industries at a high rate, only then can private property be abolished. Here Marx seems oblivious of the fact that the development of large industry is the development of a technology that has produced modern capitalism an international structure in which people are replaced by corporates.

But the presence of the practical aspects of this inherent contradiction in socialist thought that has resulted in its fall does not necessitate the acceptance of capitalism as inevitable. Another theoretical blind spot of the soviet structure has been to have envisaged a moral order while promoting physical and material luxury. This has been the dream of capitalism as well—the only difference is that while for one the so-called freedom is its basis, for the other it is the so-called equality . But when material comfort ceases to be only instrumental to life and becomes the very purpose of life then no moral order can possibly be developed upon this foundation, that is, freedom and equality cease to be values and the only value that is left is material comfort.

Evidently then though attempts were made to create a social order on the basis of both The Wealth of Nations and The Communist Manifesto but they did not succeed because they went against the very values that these works embodied, the practical realization of which they thought was the end that they had set out to establish, negating the very value that it stood for. So it seems only natural that humanity is seeking a new, another alternative—an alternative that is based on an alternative technology which embodies equality and freedom not as an end but also in its very process. Even modern physics has now established that the process and the product are inseparably the same. This inseparability of the process and the product can be realized in the socio-political and economic context only if to create a free and moral society we first create an economic and political technology which, not only in its outcome, but in its process also upholds freedom, local initiative and decentralization of power, as its pivotal force.

Hind Swaraj is a book that presents an alternative from this very perspective—we can say that it is a book that accepts equality and freedom as the foundation of a moral order but not as a distant fruit or outcome but in the very act or process of arriving at it. It is for this reason that Gandhi seeks a change in the social order not through taking control of the order but by changing its very process. In fact a free and equal society is a non-violent society, a satyagrahi society, for truth and non-violence ultimately are two faces of the same coin, or we can say that non-violence is the practical or behavioral form of truth. If equality and freedom are truths than non violence only can be their practical realization.

Evidently then if the dream of an exploitation-oppression-free society is to be realized we will have to initiate an alternative technology and policy—the embryo or the blue print of which we find in The Hind Swaraj. Gandhiji understood this well, which is the reason why he called the modern technology-based civilization a satanic civilization and called parliamentary democracy a sterile woman or a prostitute. Defining Swaraj in the end of The Hind Swaraj Gandhiji emphasizes three main criterion of Swaraj : 1. Real Swaraj is self-rule or self-control, 2. The way to it is Satyagraha, passive resistance : that is Saul-force and Love-force 3. In order to exert this force, Swadeshi in every sense is necessary.

In these postulates Mahatma Gandhi proposes a non-violent society as an alternative vis-à-vis Karl Marx and Adam Smith, the explication of which is the Hind Swaraj. In the field of economics, increase in production is not an end in itself for Mahatma Gandhi. As an economist he draws our attention to the fact that the aim of production is to fulfil our basic needs, not to create artificial demands for consumption, for fulfilment. Even if we forget for a moment how detrimental it is for a person or a society to be caught in the web of artificial needs morally, even then, purely from the physical point of view also, for the economy and for the physical and mental well-being, the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s postulation can not be refuted. It is also worth remembering that non-covetous or sacrifice-tempered-consumption may in this context not be moral precepts only but even be an economic necessity, for covetousness and unbridled desire for artificial needs is the cause of uncontrollable demands. It is not the denial of basic needs because Gandhi emphasized the need not only of mental but also physical health and wellbeing. Not many people know about Gandhi’s statement where he says that for the poor bread and butter are the manifestations of God. In fact he even says that for the poor the economic is the spiritual. For this reason though Gandhi emphasizes the need for increase in production but for basic necessities not for artificially created demands. The preferable process of this increase in production here also for him is that which creates opportunities for employment. Our modern economists hold that increase in production cannot be achieved without adopting modern technology. But as we have already seen this technology results in jobless growth which is economically detrimental. There has been repeated expression of disagreement with Gandhiji’s views on machinery and technology. In the essays and writings in The Aryan Path as well this divergence is voiced repeatedly. It has been said that freed from the capitalists they may prove to be useful for the good of the people, but the socialist experiment has given the lie to this assertion. When Gandhiji proposes Swadeshi technology as an alternative he is also proposing employment opportunity with increase in production. In modern technology based production, according to Schumacher only 3½ percent of our social time is utilized in actual production. There can be many forms of swadeshi technology, its prime objective is only this that it gives judicious attention to human labour, locally available resources and local needs. It can also be called non-violent or satyagrahi technology for the emphasis is not on the words but on the vision that sees employment, production and actual need in one continuum of non-violence. For this reason the primary aim is to choose that technology that becomes the foundation of our economic processes for eventually that will be the foundation for the structuring of the society as well.

Actually Swadeshi technology is that economic base upon which the superstructure of non-violent or free society in the real sense can be founded, that Adam Smith and Karl Marx had dreamt of. The only, though not insignificant, difference that there was, was that they were seeking it in and through processes opposed to them, which is never possible in history. When Mahatma Gandhi calls Truth God and calls satyagraha the key to self-rule and advocates the adoption of the Swadeshi to test it, it becomes evident that a Swadeshi economic order is the satygrahi order or the order of divine rule. Perhaps no other spiritual or materialist thinker has ever given so much significance to the means and tools of production as the author of The Hind Swaraj does for he knows that for the poor the economic is the spiritual and technology is the basis of the economic that is, the spiritual for the poor. Just as satyagraha is the rehabilitation of the moral in polity so is Swadeshi the rehabilitation of the spiritual in the realm of economy. In the situation to which our modern technology has, despite the dreams of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, today brought us—we need not reiterate—there is only one way to overcome and that is the adoption of the technology that the author of Hind Swaraj recommends. We can have disagreements with Gandhi’s other philosophical views but the need of a non-violent technology for a non-violent society is a need we can not ignore any longer. In this respect Hind Swaraj has become a historical necessity today—if we wish to escape the vicious cycle that history has landed us in.


Translated by Anju Dhhadda Misra


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati