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ARTICLES > PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > Gandhi's Vision and Technique of Conflict Resolution

 

Gandhi's Vision and Technique of Conflict Resolution

By Y V Satyanarayana

THIS ARTICLE IS intended to explore Gandhi's technique of conflict resolution and his vision of an ideal society. I have also made an attempt to analyse and compare the vision of Marx and Gandhi about the future of mankind. Since Marx and Gandhi are the outspoken champions of the interests of the down-trodden and exploited humanity, who fought in their own way against social suffering, political subjugation, and economic exploitation, it is quite natural for them to have some similar views, if not identical ones. They are not only concerned for the poor and oppressed humanity, but also revolutionised the character of philosophy and brought it to the realm of social action. The history of mankind shows how great men have always struggled and fought against prevailing social evils and human sufferings. Of such great men in human history, the 19th century produced two outstanding personalitiesMarx and Gandhi. These great men, while being products of history, also act as the agents of history. Marx and Gandhi responded to the challenges of the given historical situations, realized the historical necessities of their times and tried to actualize the needs and aspirations of the people of their times in their own way. Describing the nature of great men, Hegel says:

The great man of the age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and essence of his age, he actualizes his age"1

What is a conflict? A conflict may be said to be a serious disagreement between the opinions or interests of two persons or two groups of persons involved in an issue.

Gandhi wanted to evolve a revolutionary approach to political action and social change. His originality lay in the formulation of a new technique of non-violent non-cooperation or Satyagraha for social action. He believed that Satyagraha is an infallible means for resolving all social, political, and economic evils. As a technique of social action, satyagraha may be applied to resolve the following type of social conflicts:

  1. conflict between one individual and another individual

  2. conflict between an individual and a group

  3. conflict between one group and another group or between two classes

  4. conflict between a section of the community and the state

  5. conflict between one nation and another nation

Unlike Marx; Gandhi never regarded all history as the history of class struggle or all social conflicts as fundamentally antagonistic in their nature. Nevertheless he was aware of the class conflicts and wanted to resolve them or minimise them by nonviolent means. Marx and Gandhi held a similar view that no social conflict can be resolved unless the sufferers realise their suffering and their strength, constitute themselves into a class or an organisation, refuse to cooperate with evil and demonstrate their power to the evil-doers or exploiters. Thus arousing of consciousness and continuing with a powerful organisation are the essential phenomena in the Marxian and Gandhian techniques of social action.

Both these thinkers recognised the existence of social conflicts as a fact and advocated their own methods to resolve them. They believed that exploitation of the masses can be extinguished by the exploited class itself and, therefore, they put the burden of their programme of action on the shoulders of the exploited class. To that extent the "nonviolent non cooperation or satyagraha" of Gandhi and the "class struggle" of Marx are based on the same technique of social action.

Gandhi identified two areas in which class conflict is more conspicuous:

  1. conflict between capitalists and workers in industry.

  2. conflict between landlords and tenants in agriculture.

Gandhi's method of conflict resolution is based on a greater understanding and love between the two parties involved in it. He prescribed the trusteeship formula to the rich and the weapon of nonviolent non-cooperation or Satyagraha to the poor and exploited to bring about a change in the attitude of the rich. Satyagraha is a technique of action wherein the ideal of love would reign in the place of hatred and killing. It is based on truth, works through nonviolence and achieves its end by converting or compelling the opponent through self-suffering.


Capital and Labour

Gandhi pleaded for mutual love between capital and labour. He demanded equal status and dignity for capital and labour to avoid conflict between them. Why should a million rupees put together be more than million men put together?, he questioned. Without labour gold, silver, and copper are a useless burden. A nation may do without its millionaires and without its capitalists but a nation can never do without its labour. Labour is far superior to capital because it is less dependent on capital than the latter is on labour. The capital at present is able to control labour because it has learnt the art of combination before labour. Gandhi thought that if all the labourers could combine in the true nonviolent spirit, capital would inevitably come under their control. He advised the workers to refuse to serve under degrading conditions and for insufficient wages.

Gandhi, like any other socialist thinker, believed that all forms of property and human accomplishments are either gifts of nature or products of collective social effort. As such, they must belong not to the individual but to society as a whole and therefore should be used for the good of all. He made a distinction between legal ownership and moral ownership. Legally wealth belongs to the owner, but morally to the whole society. In this sense of moral ownership, the labourers are also the owners of the wealth possessed by mill-owners.

Marx and Gandhi have similar views regarding the institution of private property and they intended to abolish not only private property but also the inheritance of property rights. Marx held that communism "wants to destroy everything which is not capable of being possessed by all as private property."2 Gandhi also expressed a similar view and said: "I can only possess certain things which I know that others who also want to possess similar things, are able to do so"3


Class Collaboration

Unlike Marx, Gandhi did not believe in class war. He said there may be conflicts between workers and employees but there was no reason why they should be fomented or intensified. His belief in the innate goodness of man and his capacity for improvement implies that mutual conflict cannot be regarded as the dominant or governing principle of human life. Therefore he considered "class war" as superfluous and unnecessary. He thought that only through class collaboration can the interests of both the individual and the society as a whole be advanced. If the idea of trusteeship is accepted and implemented by capital and labour, there will be no scope for conflicts. If the workers non-cooperate with the evil of capitalism, it must die of in-animation. Thus Gandhi mainly relied on the nonviolent non-cooperation of the workers to bring about the conversion of capitalists.

Exploitation of the poor can be extinguished not by effecting the destruction of a few millionaires but by removing the ignorance of the poor and teaching them to non-cooperate with their exploiters. That will convert the exploiters also.4


Moral Conversion

Gandhi emphasized the need for adopting pure means for achieving goals in life. His approach was indeed moral transformation of the individual heart, which is the basis of all social dynamics. He believed that the duty of renunciation differentiates mankind from the beast and held that "man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men."5 The means proposed by Gandhi are based on voluntary conversion of the exploiting class to the cause of socio-economic justice by moral appeal to their conscience. His emphasis on moral conversion not only includes the moral transformation of the exploiter but also the awakening of the workers and peasants to realize their moral strength. He felt that most of the evils of the modern economic system existed because we co-operated with them or tolerated them. Cooperation with the good and non-cooperation with the evil should be the duty of every citizen. The exploiters would be deprived of their power of exploitation if the labourers realized that exploitation could take place only with their cooperation.

Unlike Gandhi, Marx did not plead for a change of heart because he considered it to be a substitute for one set of illusions to another. He believed that men just simply do not give us their riches on hearing a socialist sermon. Marx, therefore, relied on revolutionary means rather than on reformist means of Gandhi.

Gandhi's method of Satyagraha is based on three fundamental assumptions:

  1. Man's nature is not beyond redemption and it can be perfectible.

  2. Human nature is one in its essence and responds to love, and

  3. What is possible to do for one man is equally possible for all.


Salient Features of Satyagraha

  1. The underlying principle of satyagraha is not to destroy or injure the opponent, but to convert or win him by sympathy, patience, and self-suffering.

  2. The doctrine of satyagraha is based on the metaphysical belief that the tyrant may have power over the body and material possessions of a satyagrahi, but not over his soul. Hence the soul can remain unconquered and unconquerable even when the body is imprisoned.

  3. Satyagraha, as a tool of social action, is based on a strong moral content. Self-suffering is its unique character which distinguishes it from all other forms of violent methods of action. Self-suffering is infinitely more superior and powerful than the law of the Jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears to the voice of reason.

  4. Self-sacrifice of one innocent man, in a satyagraha movement, is a million times more potent than the sacrifice of a million men who die in the act of killing others.

  5. Nonviolence is not a negative virtue. It is not merely abstaining from violence or harmlessness, but a positive state of love or doing good even to the evil-doer. In other words, to resist his evil acts without hatred or harm to him.

  6. The underlying principle of nonviolence is "hate the sin but not the sinner." The philosophy of nonviolence is aimed at reconstructing, remoulding, and reshaping human nature.

  7. Nonviolent non-cooperation should not be equated with inaction or non-action. It is an active condemnation of untruth, without violence, anger, or malice. It is an active fight against all wickedness or pitting of one's soul against the will of the tyrant to win him over by love.

  8. The scope of satyagraha is much wider as it can be applied against our dearest and nearest since there is no hatred or anger or violence in it.

  9. A significant feature of the satyagraha method lies in arousing consciousness of the masses, continuing education, maintaining the unity of the sufferers and to make them into fearless soldiers, providing them with a powerful organization and then to throw them into heroic battles.

  10. The multi-class or non-class character of satyagraha movement is distinct from other methods which mainly consist of the same class.

Thus the basic aim of the Satyagraha movement is to educate the masses, make them conscious of their exploitation, prepare them into a broad front, provide them with a powerful organization and finally lead them in their struggle against the exploiters. Gandhi's satyagraha method fulfils all the necessary requirements for a revolution, no matter, whether that revolution is nonviolent or violent. Once the masses realize their strength and become conscious of their exploitation they would certainly revolt against the existing social order. Gandhi, as a man of practical affairs, visualized this possibility and rightly predicted that:

I see coming the days of the rule of the poor, whether that rule be through force of arms or of nonviolence.6

Whether Satyagraha is a universal panacea or not, it served some positive function in a specific historical context in India. On the political front it contributed as a major share for achieving independence of the country, on the social front it minimized the evils of untouchability and communal riots, but it failed to bring results on the economic front.


Theory of Trusteeship

Gandhi's theory of trusteeship is based on two basic premises:

  1. The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor.

  2. Western socialism and communism are not the last word on the question of mass poverty.

He developed the theory of trusteeship as an alternative to capitalism and scientific socialism. He was opposed to the western capitalism, which necessarily leads to oppression, exploitation, concentration of wealth and inequality. At the same time, he was against an increase in the power of the state which, in his opinion, is essentially based on violence. Gandhi, therefore, wanted to provide the institution of trusteeship as a compromise between private enterprise and state controlled enterprise.

As an ardent advocate of democracy and adult franchise, he believed that the poverty-stricken people would be able to bring their electoral pressure on the government to restructure the society on the basis of trusteeship. He thought that the only alternative to trusteeship would be bloody revolution and put before the capitalists a choice between class war arid trusteeship. He warned them:

A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and of power that riches give and sharing them for the common good.7


Conclusion

Gandhi's thought process was an outcome of his political struggle; first in South Africa as a revolt against the practice of aparthied and later in India as a battle against British imperialism for national independence.

Gandhian thought, as a philosophy of life, did not believe in a set of doctrines claiming finality. It is neither a dogma nor a closed system of thought. Since human knowledge and achievements are a continuous process, they need not stop growing with Gandhi. Hence we may not necessarily stick to the ideas of Gandhi expressed in a particular historical situation and from his own experiences of his life. It should be the duty of a true follower of Gandhi, to elaborate, amplify, and even revise his ideas in the light and experiences of contemporary changing situations in the national and international spheres. In this context, it seems to be more appropriate and necessary, to re-read and re-judge his ideas from a new angle of vision on various aspects.


Is Gandhi's Vision of Ramarajya Realizable?

The imperfections or the existing social order demanded of many philosophers and thinkers to visualize an ideal social order of their own conception wherein man can realize all his potentialities and lead a happy and peaceful life. Marx and Gandhi visualized an "exploitation­free" society of their own conception. For Marx the ideal society is the "communist society" and for Gandhi it is "Ramarajya". Though Marx and Gandhi wanted an egalitarial social order, they differed in their methods of approach to the realization of their ideal society.

The ideal society of Gandhi's concept is based on the moral evolution of individuals. Gandhi was of the opinion that his ideal society may not be possible in the present state, but it can be realizable in future in the course of evolution of human society. If people become genuinely nonviolent, morally elevated, mutually affectionate, learn to cooperate voluntarily among themselves, and become averse to anti-social activities then society will be elevated to a higher plane of culture. Gandhi's vision of ideal society is nothing but an expression of his striving for a just and perfect society, i.e., the Kingdom of righteousness on earth.

What are the stages through which the evolution of human society has advanced till now and in what direction does it need to advance in the future?

If we understand the different stages of human evolution, we can arrive at an indication of the next possible stage of evolution of human society. If an answer could be found to the question, in what direction the evolution of human society is progressing?, it would be possible for us to draw a programme of action suitable to the present stage and to work for the realization of an ideal society.

Gandhi firmly believed that history is steadily progressing towards ahimsa or nonviolence working on the law of love. Thus he argued:

If we turn our eyes to the time of which history has any record down to our time, we shall find that man has been steadily progressing towards ahimsa. Our remote ancestors were cannibals... Next came a stage when, ashamed of leading the life of a wandering hunter, man took to agriculture... Thus from being a nomad he settled down to civilized stable life, founded villages and towns, and from a member of a family he became a member of a community and a nation. All these are signs of progressive ahimsa and diminishing himsa. Had it been otherwise, the human species should have been extinct by now, even as many of the lower species have disappeared.8

If we accept that mankind has steadily progressed towards ahimsa till now, it follows that it has to progress still further and further and raise itself from the human plane to the divine plane.

Gandhi accepted man's animal ancestry and said "in our present state, we are partly men and partly beasts."9 He also admitted Darwinism and said "we have become men by a slow process of evolution from the brute."10 The evolution of species has made man the highest creature in the cycle of creation. Though man is a rational animal, his nature is still dominated by qualities of the beast in him because the human species is still in the process of evolutionary development. Man is distinguished from the beast in his ceaseless striving to rise above the beast on the moral plane. Gandhi, therefore, argued that man is superior to selfishness and violence, which belong to the beast nature, not to the nature of man.

Violence and nonviolence are the two natural impulses of all cerebral beings. These two distinct instincts have been inherited from nature. When compared to human species, the violent impulse is dominant and pervasive in creatures than in men. Thus, on the one hand, man has his animal nature and, on the other, he has his power of reason and judgment which no other animal possesses. In the course of evolution, man has made continuous progress in the cultivation of nonviolent tendencies in him and the violent aspect of him has been gradually suppressed.

Man as a social being understands that mutual assistance and cooperation with his fellow beings may render his life more easy and happy. So he has been able to build up his civilization and culture with the cooperation of his fellow beings. Human species by applying reason and judgment have been able to make astonishing progress. When the bestial part of human nature is tamed, the scope of nonviolence tendency increases and human society will be elevated to a higher plane. A civilization may be said to have advanced as far as it has succeeded in controlling the animal passions of man. Violence is counter-productive resulting in anger, hatred, jealousy, revenge, and bloodshed. Therefore nonviolent means is the only alternative to eradicate the beastly and anti-social tendencies from the human mind and to elevate human society to a superior plane wherein all humanity can live in peace and harmony.

Gandhi's concept of Ramarajya stands for an egalitarian, nonviolent, and democratic social order, wherein moral values pervade all spheres of human life. Politically it is a form of stateless society, socially it is a form of classless society where all persons are equally treated irrespective of caste, colour, religion, sex etc., and economically it is a form of socialist society in which inequalities based on possession and non­possession vanish because all wealth belongs to the society as a whole.

The law of "dharma" and the inward morality of the individuals bind together the members of the society and make them fulfill their social obligations. Dharma or social ethics exerts strong moral pressure on the individuals and sustains social cohesion. Each individual works for the "greatest good for all" and the society will provide maximum opportunities to all individuals to develop their potentialities.

Marx scientifically explained the rise, development, and decline of particular forms of societies in human history due to their inherent contradictions and conflicts. He conceived that the germs of the future society are contained within the present society. Capitalism has not only developed the economic and technological prerequisites of a future society, but it has also created a political force for its own destruction. He apprehended that a society based on class antagonisms had a need of the state to subjugate other classes by the ruling class. Once the classes are abolished, he argued, there is no need of the state and it gradually withers away, which finally leads to a classless and stateless communist society.

For Marx, communism as such is not the fulfillment of man's life, but it is the condition for such a fulfillment. He conceived communism as the condition of human freedom and creativity, but not as the final goal of humanity. In a communist society, the struggle for existence ceases and man emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into truly human conditions. It assures the basic necessaties of life to all members of the society; creates suitable conditions for the development of physical and mental faculties; liberates man from his one sided, partial, and alienated labour activity; and creates conditions for a free and creative labour activity to develop talents and interests of each member of the society.

The material abundance of communism will make it possible to distribute foods, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."11 Thus Marx's conception of communist society is not merely a society of plenty, but also a society of human dignity and fredom.12 The communist society, as Marx envisaged it, will not make angels out of devils, nor will it bring heaven on earth, but will solve only those problems that can be solved at this present stage in the development of man.


Notes and References

  1. G. W. F. Hegel, Eng. Tr. T. M. Knox, Philosophy of Right, (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 295.

  2. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, (Moscow: Progressive Publishers, 1977), p. 94.

  3. M. K. Gandhi, Quoted in Dr. V. K. R. V. Rao, The Gandhian Alternative to Western Socialism, (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970), p. 33.

  4. Harijan, 28 July, 1940, p. 219.

  5. N. K. Bose, Selections from Gandhi, (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1972), p. 25.

  6. Harijan, 1 February 1942, p. 20

  7. M. K. Gandhi, Constructive Programme, (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1968), pp. 20-21.

  8. M. K. Gandhi, For Pacifists, (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1949), p. 9.

  9. Young India, 9 March 1920, p. 286.

  10. Harijan, 2 April 1938, p. 65.

  11. Karl Marx, "Critique of the Gotha Programme", Selected Works, Vol. 3, (Moscow: Progressive Publishers, 1973), p. 19.

  12. Eugene Kamenka, The Ethical foundations of Marxism, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 157.