PUCL Bulletin, March 2002

Gandhi Peace Foundation Lecture
Relevance of Karl Marx and Gandhi in 21st Century -- By Surendra Mohan

The first Century of the third millennium has proceeded with an accelerated pace in the direction of extensive militarisation. Intensive bombing of Afghanistan by the United Sates of America has reduced that hapless country into rubble. This could be considered as a continuation of the operations in Iraq, Kosovo and Serbia in the last decade. In the new Century, the world has moved towards intensive exploitation of the natural resources of the Southern Hemisphere by the capital of the northern, which, in fact, is the world capital, and further destruction of our physical environment. This world capital continues, unabated, the mobilisation of the resources, human as well as physical, of the whole world, for the benefit of the few. It is another matter that all the manipulations are justified on the plea that they strengthen human freedom and well-being. When Karl Marx studied the rise of capital in his time, he correctly diagnosed its basic principle that all production and commerce has profit as its motive and shall lead to increasing appropriation of the labour of the working classes. He had argued that free competition in an unequal world shall create ever larger monopolies and consequently, industrialists in various countries after garnering capital at home, will intensify the colonisation of the Third World, thus setting up colonial- imperialist wars. All these and other predictions like recurrent economic crises made by him were borne out by subsequent events. Technology has moved in the direction which maximised profits and gave the colonialists most effective weapons of mass destruction. The new phase of space technology and genetic engineering unforeseen by Karl Marx or others has provided to the already powerful and the rich the surest means to enslave human minds and feed human bodies with near- poisonous foods. The motive is to serve the basic objective of profit in 'free' competition.

The march of technology in the direction that was determined for it by capital would be unfolding new wonders. However, in the present balance of forces, all of them would be appropriated by the few for the further exploitation of the millions In order to build a regime of free competition and free trade, the post - war GATT has been replaced by the WTO. Its operations have resulted in putting further legal shackles on the least developed and the developing countries. Consequently, before the WTO ministerial conference held in Doha in November last year, seventy poor countries jointly informed its Director General that they were getting de- industrialised and their agriculture had been ruined. The coming together of the world's capital under the leadership of the monopolists of the USA has also brought about a coalition of the most lethally armed countries. The system to guarantee international peace and prevent wars created in the form of the United Nations has, as its main agency, the influential Security Council which, again, is dominated by the afore-mentioned powers. Thus, the United Nations is sometimes described as the United Stations. Not only in international affairs, but also in internal matters, power has come to be centralised in a select bureaucracy. Acting in collusion with capital, this group has vindicated the Marxist characterisation of the State as the executive committee of the exploiting class. Democratic systems have also been bureaucratised everywhere; and, in poor countries, plutocrats manipulate them even better. Marx, the young Hegelian philosopher, burning with the passion for equality, drew largely upon the work of his colleague Frederick Engels on the 'conditions of the working classes in England'. His starting point was the exploitation that the study had described. Gandhi, on the other hand, was appalled by the violence prevalent in the society. He abhorred violence. For, he considered life, including human life, as the noblest divine gift, and its destruction in any manner revolted him. He sought source of violence, and understood that man's lust for more material goods led him to inflict pain on other human beings. He found that this lust also made him to subordinate nature to his consumerist desires. While emphasising that nature had provided sufficient gifts for use of human kind and other species, he said in that famous phrase that there was enough for the satisfaction of every man's need, but not for any man's greed.

Moving from violence to exploitation resulting in economic and social disparities which led to dominance of the powerful and the rich over the poor and the weak, and the decay of one section owing to deprivation and the other because of insatiable lust, he wanted a radical transformation of this entire system. Gandhi said that every person had the fullest right to satisfy all his needs: food, clothing, and security from sickness, advance in knowledge and recreation. He advocated the use of the most advanced technology, which achieved this goal. However, he did not favour that any one should accumulate more than what he needed. In fact, he called it theft. Nor did he accept a technology, which would create conditions in which one man could enslave, or dominate over, other men. He did not glorify poverty; nor sacrifice just for the sake of it. It was another matter, however, if some people adopted austerity to serve other human beings. Having decided to work for a system in which violence, exploitation, inequality and greed had no place; Gandhi proceeded to pronounce a code of ethics for the society and for the individual. Ethics, with truth ensconced in the center, guided all spheres of life, primarily economics. He was in favour of an economic system in which every person earned his bread by what he called bread labour, a system in which there was full employment which gave everyone decent living. In Indian conditions where capital was scarce and labor was abundant, this could only be a technology by which mass production of goods by the masses could be resorted to. Education was to be geared to the creation of this kind of production; hence, the idea of basic education. To eliminate dominance and exploitation, a system of self- governance of small communities was the logical step; for, authority away from the people whom it affected could easily turn to tyranny. He therefore emphasised devolution of political and administrative power. He argued that these communities will conduct their business by consensus, depend on the use of local resources for the satisfaction of their needs, but co- ordinate with the neighbouring communities for mutual help. This system he called Swadeshi. Gandhi, while pointing out that nature blessed man with plenty, was in favour of limiting one's wants and pleaded austerity.

The tragedy today is that the society as it has evolved is farther away from the ideals of Karl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi. Karl Marx had thought that along with the progress of capitalism, its antithesis, the proletariat, shall grow to overthrow it, and the enslaved peoples shall challenge colonialism. While the second hypothesis proved correct, the first did not. The working classes were being influenced by the comparative prosperity and social security, after having being driven as cattle from their lands. By 1904, a whole school of thought had emerged in the labour movement, which pleaded for reformism and was declared revisionist by the orthodox Marxists. During the last one hundred years, the creation of the welfare state and provision of social security in the developed countries has co-opted the working class into the capitalist system. The Marxist hypothesis that the middle classes will be pushed to pauperisation and will have to join the proletariat has been falsified. On the other hand, there is a big service sector and independent professions also, just as some sections of skilled workers are no less part of the lower middle class. Therefore, the process of transformation as envisaged by Karl Marx has become am impossibility. With the resources of education, information and entertainment in the hands of capitalists, it has become easy for the latter to spend false consciousness also. The strong soviet system, calling itself Marxist, crumbled owing to authoritarianism, centralisation of political power, corruption and consumerism. In any case, it had suppressed solidarity and equality, the core Marxist values. In China also, consumerism and great disparities between regions and groups of individuals have appeared. While the vision of Karl Marx has proved impractical, although his analysis of capital has come out to be true, the vision of Mao Dze Dong has also failed. He had called for the Country to over- run the City. However, in the present day China where his followers are in power, the city is gradually seeping into the country.

Yet another protagonist of radical transformation had asked for the setting up of Focaults but as against the military might of the dictators in South America, they were easily suppressed. Now only the memory remains. Marcuse, having despaired of the workers, had hoped that the student and youth power would provide the sinews of revolution.

The events of 1968 in France and Germany have been ascribed to his inspiration. However, the youth today are glamourised more by television and consumer goods than by revolutionary spirit. Gandhi's followers hardly followed him. They followed the West and its civilisation which to Gandhi was totally unacceptable. Those who remained true to his ideas have not been able to challenge the system in any meaningful manner. In fact, Gandhi was portrayed as a proponent of non-violence, truth and peace. However, the context that he always rebelled against violence, falsehood and war was forgotten. His ideas of decentralist economy and polity as also his emphasis of ethical behaviour have certainly permeated the consciousness of man, but greed, the desire to dominate and acquire material goods have become prime motives in the lives of men. The 21st century therefore presents a paradox both for Marxists and Gandhians. The transformation of society that they sought is the crying need. Yet, there is no material force capable of achieving it. Even those nations which felt after the ministerial meetings of the WTO in Doha that they must create a coalition of the poor to fight for their rights, abjectly surrendered at the last moment. However, hundreds of thousands of persons from various walks of life joined the protest against the machinations of the group of eight developed countries. Possibly, their solidarity will grow and the issues of the degradation of the environment, displacements of millions owing to the big dams, comparative disadvantages suffered by those engaged in the agriculture sector, the unemployed whose number is increasing fast, the sensitive intelligentsia which opposes homogenisation of culture as also bio-culture at the cost of their rich diversity will mobilise themselves in larger numbers. But then their sights must be clear.

A comparative austerity in living, an ethical code of behaviour which gives proper respect to all the vulnerable sections of society and which refuses to consider woman as a commodity will have to adopted. Nor can centralisation of political and economic power or any system of exploitation or domination would constitute an alternative, which is what they are looking for. This vision is nearer to Gandhi than Marx although in the final picture, both are alike. Moreover, the most modern weapons of violence can be defeated only by non-violence. For this not only those who are the actual victims but everybody who feels that the system is anti-human and unjust will have to volunteer himself. That would require a cultural revolution so as to create a moral force. Not the hegemony of a party or a class, but an acutely conscious citizenry. Nor a charismatic individual.' but self-awareness by hundred million individuals. Personal example, localised passive resistance and incessant education can only trigger it. Does this vacuum of ideological systems provide humankind an opportunity for effective innovation to realise our core values of humanism, equality, fraternity and freedom, in our time? Human ingenuity could take it as a challenge and formulate appropriate answers.

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