Gandhi On Communism and Socialism

Gandhi was an advocate for socialism and communism, but warned that it was not the same as that imagined by the Europeans and Americans. Writing in the English Daily Amrita Bazar Patrika on August 2-3, 1934, he said, “Socialism and communism of the West are based on certain conception which are fundamentally different from ours. One such conception is their belief in essential selfishness of human nature. I do not subscribe to it for I know that the former can respond to the call of the spirit in him, can rise superior to the passions that he owns in common with the brute and, therefore, superior to selfishness and violence, which belong to the brute nature and not to the immortal spirit of man … Our socialism or communism should, therefore, be based on nonviolence and on harmonious co-operation of labour and capital, landlord and tenant.”

Gandhi categorically rejected class war as being incompatible with nonviolence: “The idea of class war does not appeal to me. In India a class war is not inevitable, but it is avoidable if we have understood the message of nonviolence. Those who talk about class war as being inevitable, have not understood the implications of nonviolence or have understood them only skin-deep.”

He believed that communism could be built without abolishing the class-structure of society. He thought it possible to convince capitalist and worker to cooperate instead of being in conflict: “I am working for the co-operation and co-ordination of capital and labour, of landlord and tenant … I have always told mill owners that they are not exclusive owners of mills and workmen are equal sharers in ownership. In the same way, I would tell you that ownership of your land belongs as much to the ryots as to you, and you may not squander your gains in luxurious or extravagant living, but must use them for the well-being of ryots. Once you make your ryots experience a sense of kinship with you and a sense of security that their interests as members of a family will never suffer at your hands, you may be sure that there cannot be a clash between you and them and no class war.”

At the same time Gandhi believed in struggling against exploitation: “I never said that there should be co-operation between the exploiter and the exploited so long as exploitation and the will to exploit persists. Only I do not believe that the capitalists and the landlords are all exploiters by an inherent necessity or that there is a basic or irreconcilable antagonism between their interests and those of the masses. All exploitation is based on co-operation, willing or forced, of the exploited. However much we may detest admitting it, the fact remains that there would be no exploitation if people refuse to obey the exploiter.” For Gandhi struggle should be conducted through nonviolence, and he warned that one must never be passive in the face of evil; that violence was better than cowardice.

Gandhi foresaw a socialist India achieved through nonviolence. As he wrote in Harijan in 1940 (quoted in My View of Trusteeship, “Antagonism between the classes will be removed. I do not envisage a dead and artificial level among the people. There will be a variety among them as there is among the leaves of a tree. There will certainly be no have-nots, no unemployment, and no disparity between classes and masses such as we see to-day. I have no doubt whatsoever that if non-violence in its full measure becomes the policy of the State, we shall reach essential equality without strife.”

Gandhi’s analysis was paradoxical. On the one hand he rejected class struggle and foresaw cooperation between the classes. On the other hand, he called for perpetual struggle against exploitation and foresaw the day when there would be no more social classes. In the end it would seem that his strategic vision was a classless society not unlike that foreseen in the Communist Manifesto but that the means for arriving there was through nonviolence rather than violence.

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