Franz J.T. Lee, January, 2005
Global Relevance of the social philosophy of Mahatma K. Gandhi
The historic life and heroic struggle of Mahatma K. Gandhi against British colonial injustice, human degradation, economic exploitation and social discrimination are well known, here we will just spotlight certain selected aspects of his social philosophy, its moral principles and its contemporary relevance for global revolutionary and emancipatory efforts.
Not by any means are we ignoring the worldwide invaluable works and moral contributions of the global, erudite, academic titans on the topic Gandhi, that definitely concern his social principles and ascetic modus vivendi, however, here, we will just quote K. Santhanam, who is also an expert in this matter, and who best describes our own philosophic deliberations:
"... he (Gandhi) lived an austere life, practiced strict vegetarianism and abstained from alcoholic drinks, tobacco and even the milder stimulants like coffee and tea. His attachment to simple natural remedies against illness and disease and his radical ideas on education are not so well known to the outside world and, even in India, they have not made much impact. Gandhi deliberately refrained from making these issues public and thereby confusing the people. The only exception was prohibition of intoxicating drinks which became a tool in the armory of satyagraha."
See: K. Santhanam, "Basic Principles Of Gandhism."
Now, what are the fundamental political principles of Gandhism?
Why should they concern Latin America and Venezuela?
What relevance do they have for social conflicts, for an attempted military coup d'etat, for oil sabotage, for electoral campaigns, for Citizen Power?
Gandhism, existing on the other extreme of Marxism, surely should concern us, as Ernst Bloch would say, as the warm human current of emancipation, of revolutionary processes that are "neither Marxist nor Anti-Marxist", that are against brutal violence, imperialist "terrorism" and that categorically favor real world peace and true social justice.
Here in Venezuela, where morality is even elevated to a constitutional State power, surely Gandhi's social philosophical views have become topical again.
In fact, in his many addresses to the nation, very often, underlining nonviolence, social justice and human happiness, President Hugo Chavez Frias ocassionally refers to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. However, it can not be in our emancipatory interest eternally just to glorify any social reformer or revolutionary. On the contrary, as time passes by, in fairness to Gandhi himself, our scientific and philosophic duty is to enrich his life work, to criticize and "up-date" it constructively.
Firstly, as we know, Gandhi developed the famous social technique of "satyagraha" -- peaceful social action, a social philosophic system that enjoins nonviolent personal behavior and social responsibility.
However, in essence, it is not totally passive or pacifist, in cases of liberatory self-defense, it "holds fast to truth", defends it with "resistance", for example, like it was the case in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, in which Gandhi, the "Indian Congress of South Africa" and the African National Congress (ANC) had participated. In more detail, below we will deal with these basic principles of his philosophy.
Secondly, well-known is his life long struggle in India and in South Africa, against "untouchability," that is, against the ideological, discriminatory, psychological, caste and colonial notions of "race" superiority and inferiority. In this case, like many of us, Gandhi found himself between the devil and the deep, blue sea, between colonial racist ideology and ancient cultural traditions. He had to defend Indian cultural and moral values, to grasp the millions of pariahs on their level of social imagination, but at the same time with new, independent values, effectively he had to confront British colonial immorality and racism.
In the current revolutionary process of Latin American integration, of finding our own historical roots, of applying our own Bolivarian moral values, with the truth trying to ward off malicious, disinformation campaigns and US war-mongering, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Surely, Gandhi could give us a historic lesson, not to copy it, but to enrich, to materialize it.
Now, very briefly, let us critically highlight some of the basic elements of his social philosophy.
1. DIALECTICAL UNITY AND CONTRADICTION BETWEEN HUMAN ACTION AND SOCIAL THOUGHT
In typical, oriental tradition, using his specific idealist, religious terminology, concerning individual human beings, formal logically neglecting their social, class nature, their master and slave relations, nonetheless, he taught about the indivisible integrity, about the dialectical unity and contradiction of the human corporeal body and divine mind. According to Santhanam, confirming his dialectical philosophy:
"He (Gandhi) was never tired of saying that the body should be controlled by the mind and the mind by the soul."
Of course, across the past century, the concept "control" has acquired very negative, modern connotations, especially in the realm of the "war of ideas," of "mind and thought control," that is, in general, in the realm of political domination, manipulation and indoctrination; hence, to understand Gandhi in an emancipatory sense, a better term would be "related" in a human, humane and humanist sense of harmony. In this way, by enriching Gandhi, together with him, we could surpass the blatant, mundane lies of reactionary ideology, and thus head towards the revolutionary theoretical cliffs of truth, of emancipatory Pico Bolivar.
his own words, for us Santhanam expresses this as follows:
"But this control is not to be achieved by despising or neglecting either the body or the mind or in the mystic exaltation of the soul by itself. He attached to physical health and well-being as much importance as to plain and logical thinking or moral responsibility."
Leaving the generally emphasized Gandhist "spiritualization of politics" for a while aside, rather we should note that Gandhi , in his idealist dialectics, had underlined that, on the one hand, real thought ... we would say true, practical theory ... organically must be related to highly moral endeavors, and on the other hand, to socially useful, right, righteous action ... we would say, to real, theoretical praxis.
However, in the last analysis, delving much deeper into his social philosophy, diving further into his favorite daily prayers, that is, in the verses of the Bhagavad Gita, it becomes obvious that Gandhi had no faith in purely abstract, virtuous spirituality by itself. He regarded it just as a kind of aureole or illumination which should accompany any liberating social thought and action.
2. A SIMPLE SET OF MORAL HUMAN VALUES
In a corrupt society of British colonial egoism, avarice and immorality, for India to gain social independence, Gandhi saw the liberating necessity of introducing ethical and moral social action and thought in the independence movement.
Precisely this was also the revolutionary motive of the Bolivarians why constitutionally a Moral Power had to be introduced in Venezuela, to erase forever the ossified, racist and alienating vices of centuries of oligarchism and "puntofijismo."
Concerning the selection of the kind of moral values we could differ, but he considered the following to be of paramount importance: "the main elements are selflessness, non-attachment, non-violence and active service."
Whether the human species, whether all or some human beings, or whether certain social classes are by "nature", by essence or spirit non-violent, pacifist or unselfish, we leave this to the thousands of erudite scholars to determine. However, what we have noticed across the last centuries is that the ruling social orders in which we are living, all have been violent, were killing millions of earth-dwellers by social order itself. We are being born in violence, live in violence, die in violence; even more so today, at the eve of global fascism.
But, in the words of Santhanam, let Gandhi explain to us the moral of this bloody, historical story: "...he believed that the growth of a man's personality is proportionate to his faith in and practice of these virtues. This is possible only when he identifies himself more and more with an ever-increasing circle till it embraces all humanity and even all living beings. He judged the value and vitality of social institutions by their capacity to foster such growth."
Surely, very soberly we can say that at the current level of the global production process, of permanent natural destruction and boundless social alienation, in a violent, capitalist, imperialist, corporate, fascist environment in agony, this human endeavor, as sublime as it may be, is impossible to attain anymore.
Gandhi, we ourselves, did not choose our serpentine road towards emancipation. Bush, his local opposition Quislings, his international CIA lackeys and the Pentagon-White House war-mongers with their "Project for a New American Century" and "Colombia Plan," paved the violent road of humanity with their belligerent, depleted uranium "mother of all bombs."
3, CONCERNING THE POLITICAL STATE
Precisely with reference to the above, concerning the colonial, political State, Gandhi suggested the following alternative. For him, what enjoys primary significance is only "the growth of individuals." The State should only serve the interests of the individuals that make up society.
Here, in total contradiction with Socialism or Marxism, a politico-economic analysis of colonial and neocolonial realities is totally absent; no mention about any class interests or class struggles. In fact, on the contrary, in his earlier years, because of its social and sexual discipline, rather of its sexual repression, Gandhi defended this very oppressive caste-system in India. This ideal notion was not completely abandoned in his more mature writings.
Nonetheless, contrary to Machiavelli, whose views he repudiated, Gandhi considered means just as important as ends, even more relevant than ends, never mind, even if they were socially desirable and "good". Social ends direct, but human means constitute life itself.
According to him, in real political life, in the struggle for independence, human means have to be righteous, good, truthful and non-violent.
Of course, in a classless society, in the absence of competition, monopolization, centralization, globalization, accumulation of capital and profits, any sane person or individual would be inhuman not to agree with these Gandhist humane ends, however, in the true reality in which we currently live and die, for example in Iraq, more precisely in Fallujah, the sole application of this practice against our bloodthirsty arch-enemies would not only result in mass suicide, globally, it would be genocidal for billions of working, toiling pariahs. In fact, Gandhi, and his disciple, Martin Luther King Jr., themselves had to take this bloody, Socratic hemlock. Definitely, neither raw violence nor myopic pacifism can emancipate us.
4. FAITH AND HOPE IN A GOD
This is the rock of ages on which Gandhi's social philosophy stands and falls. However, not only the world of Gandhi, but of over 90% of the global population, no matter whether they are actively, passively or culturally believers in a myriad of different divinities. Here, we refrain to comment about religious critique or critical religion in the 21st century, in the "Information Age." Let us allow Santhanam to summarize Gandhi's views on the matter.
"Faith in God is, according to Gandhi, the foundation of all moral values. He never defined God and was prepared to allow every person to have his own idea of God. For himself, he was inclined to think of Him as the Upanishadic Brahman. But, so long as a person believes in some source of spiritual life and holds it superior to the material universe, he is a believer in God."
Finally, in honor of Gandhi, we have to state that morality, that ethical behavior and thought, stand higher than any religious fantasies, chimeras or phantasmagorias. He himself preferred any true agnostic with high moral values to a corrupt, megalomaniac Pharisee or to a State president, who in messianic bellicose array daily blesses Mammon or the nation.
Inter alia, across the twentieth century, the views of Gandhi on politics, economics and society played an important role in the independence movements against British colonialism in India and also in South Africa, where indentured Indian cheap labor was exploited to the maximum.
In India itself, much later, to a certain extent they were even implemented in the various Five Year Plans, and in the program of Khadi and Village Industries.
Also, the social philosophic views of Gandhi had influenced liberatory movements across the globe, in this way, Gandhi has left his own emancipatory imprint on the destiny of humanity.