The Art Gallery of New South Wales is currently exhibiting a monumental work from Jitish Kallat, “Public Notice 2”. It reproduces a foundational speech from Gandhi pronounced on March 11, 1930 calling for civil disobedience. The text is reproduced in large letters made of bones; embracing the symbolism of the Mahatma’s words, relics to be exhumed in our barbaric post-modern world.
Gandhi’s speech, delivered in Hindustan (1) on March 11, 1930 on the eve of the Salt March, on the banks of the Sabarmati river.
<< In all probability this will be my last speech to you. Even if the Government allow me to march tomorrow morning, this will be my last speech on the sacred banks of the Sabarmati. Possibly these may be the last words of my life here.
I have already told you yesterday what I had to say. Today I shall confine myself to what you should do after my companions and I are arrested. The programme of the march to Jalalpur must be fulfilled as originally settled. The enlistment of the volunteers for this purpose should be confined to Gujarat only. From what I have seen and heard during the last fortnight, I am inclined to believe that the stream of civil resisters will flow unbroken.
But let there be not a semblance of breach of peace even after all of us have been arrested. We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively nonviolent struggle.
Let no one commit a wrong in anger. This is my hope and prayer. I wish these words of mine reached every nook and corner of the land. My task shall be done if I perish and so do my comrades. It will then be for the Working Committee of the Congress to show you the way and it will be up to you to follow its lead. So long as I have reached Jalalpur, let nothing be done in contravention to the authority vested in me by the Congress. But once I am arrested, the whole responsibility shifts to the Congress. No one who believes in nonviolence as a creed need therefore sit still. My contract with the Congress ends as soon as I am arrested. In that case volunteers, wherever possible, civil disobedience of salt as should be started. These laws can be violated in three ways. It is an offence to manufacture salt wherever there are facilities for doing so. The possession and sale of contraband salt, which includes natural salt or salt earth, is also an offence. The purchasers of such salt will be equally guilty. To carry away the natural salt deposits on the seashore is likewise violation of law. So is the hawking of such salt. In short, you may choose any one or all of these devices to break the salt monopoly.
We are, however, not to be content with this alone. There is no ban by the Congress and wherever the local workers have self confidence other suitable measures may be adopted.
I stress only one condition, namely, let our pledge of truth and nonviolence as the only means for the attainment of Swaraj be faithfully kept.
For the rest, everyone has a free hand. But, than does not give a license to all and sundry to carry on their own responsibility. Wherever there are local leaders, their orders should be obeyed by the people. Where there are no leaders and only a handful of men have faith in the programme, they may do what they can, if they have enough self-confidence. They have a right, nay it is their duty, to do so. The history of the world is full of instances of men who rose to leadership, by sheer force of self-confidence, bravery and tenacity. We too, if we sincerely aspire to Swaraj and are impatient to attain it, should have similar self-confidence. Our ranks will swell and our hearts strengthen, as the number of our arrests by the Government increases.
Much can be done in many other ways besides these. The liquor and foreign cloth shops can be picketed. We can refuse to pay taxes if we have the requisite strength. The lawyers can give up practice. The public can boycott the law courts by refraining from litigation. Government servants can resign their posts.
In the midst of the despair reigning all round people quake with fear of losing employment. Such men are unfit for Swaraj. But why this despair? The number of Government servants in the country does not exceed a few hundred thousand. What about the rest? Where are they to go? Even free India will not be able to accommodate a greater number of public servants. A Collector then will not need the number of servants he has got today. He will be his own servant. Our starving millions can by no means afford this enormous expenditure. If, therefore, we are sensible enough, let us bid goodbye to Government employment, no matter if it is the post of a judge or a peon. Let all who are cooperating with the Government in one way or another, be it by paying taxes, keeping titles, or sending children to official schools, etc withdraw their co-operation in all or as many ways as possible. Then there are women who can stand shoulder to shoulder with men in this struggle.
You may take it as my will. It was the message that I desired to impart to you before starting on the march or for the jail. I wish that there should be no suspension or abandonment of the war that commences tomorrow morning or earlier, if I am arrested before that time. I shall eagerly await the news that ten batches are ready as soon as my batch is arrested. I believe there are men in India to complete the work our begun by me. I have faith in the righteousness of our cause and the purity of our weapons. And where the means are clean, there God is undoubtedly present with His blessings. And where these three combine, there defeat is an impossibility.
A Satyagrahi, whether free or incarcerated, is ever victorious. He is vanquished only when he forsakes truth and nonviolence and turns a deaf ear to the inner voice.
If, therefore, there is such a thing as defeat for even a Satyagrahi, he alone is the cause of it. God bless you all and keep off all obstacles from the path in the struggle that begins tomorrow. >>
The teachings of Gandhi, civil disobedience and non-violence, were used to conquer the independence of India, and are widely known in the West. They have been an inspiration to multiple political figures, such as Martin Luther King during the US civil rights movement, or Nelson Mandela during this fight against apartheid.
However Gandhi’s philosophy is much more profound and radical than those well-known concepts. In this speech, two key terms deserve an explanation: Swaraj and Satyagrahi.
Swaraj literally means “self-government” (“swa” for oneself, “raj” government). The concept of Swaraj defended by Gandhi is often reduced to the struggle for the independence of the Indian people against the English authority, but it is broader because it encompasses politically autonomy, economic autonomy, and individual autonomy. This is attained by combining autonomy and decentralization, i.e. the rejection of hierarchy and institutions.
- Political autonomy: the right of the People to self-determination, self-organization and civil disobedience against laws deemed unfair.
Gandhi criticizes any centralized and hierarchical form of political organization, and favours a decentralized organization, which would be self-organized by the people themselves through communities. His observation of representative democracy in England – party system, power struggles and the inevitable corruption that comes with political power – convinced that the centralized state had an overall detrimental role, and that representative democracy ultimately fails to defend the interests of the people. The “Mahatma” felt that the State, whether Indian or British, instead of being the “great protector” it claims to be, takes the right to violate citizens’ rights for the benefit of a few elites. The sovereignty of the people then can only derive from those people’s ability to define what is morally good for themselves – ie it cannot be dictated by others, or the State. Gandhi adds:
« Real swaraj will come, not by the acquisition of authority but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority »
Unfortunately, the Congress party, led by Nehru after Gandhi’s death, quickly regarded this objective of “Swaraj” as unattainable and chose the option of a planned and centralized State, which resulted in an oligarchic and corrupt political class, hence creating a real deficit of democracy.
- Economic autonomy: Communities based on the voluntary participation of all, and decentralized production
The Big Protest Marches initiated by Gandhi were all mobilizations against economic injustice. The colonization in India by the British State which continued what the East India Company had started for its own private interests was a huge commercial operation aiming to open access to cheap resources, and what is less known, a new market so that England could offload the surpluses created by mechanisation (England was just manufacturing too many goods for its domestic market, and needed somewhere to export them). This fate fell on India, just the same way it is falling on Africa today. Thus, the Indigo Revolt of 1919 against the British who forced Indian farmers to abandon their food crops for the production of indigo and other non-edible crops destined to export. England enforced its monopoly to set the price of indigo at an artificially low level that pushed Indian peasants into the most terrible poverty, and made it easier to then export their subsidized textile. Thee Mahatma urged Indians to boycott British textile and encouraged self-production. To lead by example, he gave up his British suit for his famous Indian dhoti, which he weaved himself.
Gandhi criticized the monopoly of large corporations and the unlimited accumulation of capital in the hands of a few. Gandhi was not against technology per se, but rejected the great proto-capitalist machinery that turned individuals into dehumanized cogs. The division of labour a la Adam Smith, promotes efficiencies but also limits self-expression and empties work of its meaning. So Gandhi encouraged the creation of communities based on sharing and joint work as well as the self-sufficiency of each village community in its production of agricultural and manufactured goods.
Gandhi summed up his philosophy in 1946:
<< Independence begins at the bottom… A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Growth will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it. >>
What is fascinating and prescient is that back then Gandhi’s speech contained the draft principles embraced by today’s critics of the current political system, as well as the advocates of an economic overhaul of the capitalist system. For example Gandhi’s opposition to an oligarchic political class echoes attempts to participatory democracy advocated by Pomedos; His promotion of self-sufficiency (“every town MUST be self-sustained”) echoes the movements “going off the grid” (eco-villages); to name just a few examples promoted by the pioneers and theorists of the sharing and peer-to-peer paradigms such as Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation, whose work is foundational in that space.
This self-organization cannot rely on a higher authority, which would necessarily be a totalitarian hierarchy. Instead, it needs to be based on personal ethics, the “search for truth” said Gandhi, in a spiritual sense, and the limitation of desires by means of a happy frugality.
This is the full force of Gandhi’s philosophy: linking the political objectives of its struggle to spiritual precepts drawn from Hindu philosophy. If there is no more hierarchy, but voluntary cooperation, then directional compass of the social group can only emanate from personal ethic.
Satyagraha literally means “embrace the Truth.” It is associated with Gandhi’s struggles based on non-violence and civil disobedience, but is much more than that. It is the pursuit of truth. Truth cannot be imposed by force but only by seeking approval, empathy, and compassion for each other. Ghandi refutes that injustice can be repaired by another injustice that would be violence. The law of love is greater than the law of the strongest.
I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself
The concept of Satyagraha is undoubtedly related to the central concept of the Hindu philosopher Ahimsa. The ahimsa, which is difficult to translate, is the idea that any action is just if it does not cause harm to anyone. It stands for non-violence and “benevolence. It has obviously worked its way into our contemporary culture through the pursuit of well-being, non-violent communication, and any other concept that you will find of the ‘self-help’ section of your local bookstore.
Gandhi also extensively studied and commented on the Bhagavad Gita, the philosophical text at the core of the great Mahabharata epic. In only 700 stanzas, Krishna delivers his teachings to Arjuna, the hero of the epic who faces a dilemma while a battle ahead promises to be bloody and deadly. War is a metaphor for confusion, fears and doubts that every person can encounter. The Gita recommends appeasement by the search for just and selfless action, and peace of the mind through the mental and sensory discipline.
“Unifying the purified intelligence, the whole being mastered by a firm and stable will, having renounced his and other objects of the senses, withdrawing from any condition and any dislike, resorting to impersonal solitude, sober, having mastered speech, body and mind through meditation constantly united with his deepest self, completely renouncing desire and attachment, rejecting egoism, violence, arrogance, desire, anger, sense and instinct of possession issued any sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, calm and luminously impassive – such a man is ready to become wise.” Bhagavad Gita
Gandhi’s legendary will, the one that made him endure hunger strikes and imprisonment, derives its strength from its detachment from desires and passions, to devote himself to the just and selfless action.
If Gandhi refused the capitalist industrial system synonymous with exploitation and inequality, the political and economic self-sufficiency of Swaraj is not enough. It must be accompanied by a decolonization of the consumerist mind and the refusal of wealth accumulation. Do not bow to the fleeting and superficial pleasures of consumption of material goods. Instead, focus on a spiritual search for truth, a happy frugality. Gandhi set an example with the way he lived his life: asceticism, Spartan routines, and the practice of meditation and yoga.
Also be clear, the Blaq Swans have not drunk the Kool-Aid nor suddenly discovered “the road to Bhutan”. This search for truth and a happy frugality has nothing to do with the current trend of New Age Bullshit impersonated by Oprah Winfrey and her clones. While these new gurus of personal development inevitably hijack Gandhi to their advantage to buy themselves a legitimacy and a pedigree, we must insist that this brand of fake “self empowerment” for a “Successful Life” is to Gandhi what junk food is to gastronomy. An unhealthy and pale imitation, and an invitation to deep dive into the original philosophy!
Celine – September 29, 2015 – Paris
Gandhi’s political philosophy: http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/dasgupta.htm
Gandhi concept of decentralization: http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/concept.htm
What Swaraj meant to Gandhi: http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/swaraj.htm