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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Man v. Machine
Man V. Machine
I would not weep over the disappearance of machinery or consider it a calamity. But I have no design upon machinery as such. (YI, 19-1-1921, p. 21)
Reinstatement of Man
I have the conviction within me that, when all these achievements of the machine age will have disappeared, these our handicrafts will remain; when all exploitation will have ceased, service and honest labour will remain. It is because this faith sustains me that I am going on with my work
. Indomitable faith in their work sustained men like Stephenson and Columbus. Faith in my work sustains me.
Faith in my work sustains me, but there is also added to it the conviction that all the other things that seem to challenge my faith are doomed
. I am clear that, whilst this machine age aims at converting men into machines, I am aiming at reinstating man turned machine into his original estate.
Ideally I would rule out all machinery, even as I would reject this very body, which is not helpful to salvation, and seek the absolute liberation of the soul. From that point of view, I would reject all machinery, but machines will remain because, like the body, they are inevitable. The body itself is the purest piece of mechanism; but if it is a hindrance to the highest flights of the soul, it has to be rejected. (YI, 20-11-1924, p. 386)
Evil of Machinery
Saving of Labour
The saving of labour of the individual should be the object, and not human greed the motive. Thus, for instance, I would welcome any day a machine to straighten crooked spindles. Not that blacksmiths will cease to make spindles; they will continue to provide spindles, but when the spindle goes wrong, every spinner will have a machine to get it straight. Therefore, replace greed by love and everything will be all right. (YI, 13-11-1924, p. 378)
I can have no consideration for machinery which is meant either to enrich the few at the expense of the many, of without cause to displace the useful labour of many. (H, 22-6-1935, p. 146)
Mechanization is good when hands are too few for the work intended to be accomplished. It is an evil where there are more hands than required for the work, as is the case of India. The problem with us is not how to find leisure for the teeming millions inhabiting our villages. The problem is how to utilize their idle hours, which are equal to the working days of six months in the year. (H, 16-11-1934, p. 316)
But why not, it is asked, save the labours of millions, and give them more leisure for intellectual pursuits? Leisure is good and necessary up to a point only. God created man to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and I dread te prospect of our being able to produce all that we want, including our food-stuffs, out of a conjurors hat.
A factory employs a few hundreds and renders thousands unemployed. I may produce tons of oil from an oil-mill, but I also drive thousands of oil-men out of employment. I call this destructive energy, whereas production by the labour of millions of hands is constructive and conducive to the common good. Mass-production through power-driven machinery, even when State-owned, will be of no avail.
My opposition to machinery is much misunderstood. I am not opposed to machinery as such. I am opposed to machinery which displaces labour and leaves it idle. (H, 15-9-1946, p. 310)
I refuse to be dazzled by the seeming triumph of machinery. I am uncompromisingly against all destructive machinery. But simple tools and instruments and such machinery as saves individual labour and lightens the burden of the millions of cottage I should welcome. (YI, 17-6-1926, p. 218)
I hold that the machinery method is harmful when the same thing can be done easily by millions of hands not otherwise occupied. It is any day better and safer for the millions, spread in the seven hundred thousand villages of India, scattered over an area nineteen hundred miles long and fifteen hundred broad, that they manufacture their clothing in their own villages, even as they prepare their own food. These villages cannot retain the freedom they have enjoyed from time immemorial if they do not control the production of prime necessaries of life. (YI, 2-7-1931, p. 161)
I would categorically state my conviction that the mania for mass-production is responsible for the world crises. Granting for the moment that machinery may supply all the needs of humanity, still it would concentrate production in particular areas, so that you would have to go in a roundabout way to regulate distribution, whereas, if there is production and distribution both in the respective areas where things are required, it is automatically regulated and there is less chance for fraud, non for speculation.
Concentration of Wealth
Organization of machinery for the purpose of concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few and for the exploitation of many I hold to be altogether wrong. Much of the organization of machinery of the present age is of that type. The movement of the spinning-wheel is an organized attempt to displace machinery from that state of exclusiveness and exploitation and to place it in its proper state. Under my scheme, therefore, men in change of machinery will think not of themselves or even of the nation to which they belong, but of the whole human race. (YI, 17-9-1925, p. 321)
Dead machinery must not be pitted against the millions of living machines represented by the villagers scattered in the seven hundred thousand villages of India. Machinery to be well used has to help and ease human effort. The present use of machinery tends more and more to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few in total disregard of millions of men and women whose bread is snatched by it out of their mouths.
Under my system, again, it is labour which is the current coin, not metal. Any person who can use his labour has that coin, has wealth. He converts his labour into cloth, he converts his labour grain. If he wants paraffin oil, which he cannot himself produce, he uses his surplus grain for getting the oil. It is exchange of labour on free, fair and equal termshence it is no robbery. You may object that this is a reversion to the primitive system of barter. But is not all international trade based on the barter system? (H, 2-11-1934, p.302)
I am personally opposed to great trusts and concentration of industries by means of elaborate machinery . If India takes to Khaddar and all it means, I do not lose the hope of India taking only as much of the modern machinery system as may be considered necessary for the amenities of life and labour-saving devices. (YI, 24-7-1924, p. 246)
What is the cause of the present chaos? It is exploitation, I will not say of the weaker nations by the stronger, but of sister nations by sister nations. And my fundamental objection to machinery rests on the fact that it is machinery that has enabled these nations to exploit others. In itself it is a wooden thing and can be turned to good purpose or bad. But it is easily turned to a bad purpose as we know.
Place of Machinery
An improved plough is a good thing. But if by some chance, one man who could plough up by some mechanical invention of his the whole of the land of India, and control all the agricultural produce, and if the millions had no other occupation, they would starve, and being idle, they would become dunces, as many have already become. There is hourly danger of many more being reduced to that unenviable state.
I would welcome every improvement in the cottage machine, but I know that it is criminal to displace hand labour by the introduction of power-driven spindles unless one is, at the same time, ready to give millions of farmers some other occupation in their homes. (YI, 5-1-1925, p. 377)
I would prize every invention of science made for the benefit of all. There is a difference between invention and invention. I should not care for the asphyxiating gases capable of killing masses of men at a time. The heavy machinery for work of public utility, which cannot be undertaken by human labour, has its inevitable place, but all that would be owned by the State and used entirely for the benefit of the people. (H, 22-6-1935, p. 146)
Challenge of Machine Age
It seems to be possessed of a will or genius of its own. It is antagonistic to mans labour. Thus it tends more to displace man, one machine doing the work of hundred, if not a thousand, who go to swell the army of the unemployed and the under-employed, not because it is desirable but because that is its law. In America it has perhaps reached the extreme limit.
I have been opposed to it not from today, but even before 1908, when I was in South Africa, surrounded by machines. Their onward march had not only not impressed me but had repelled me. It then dawned on me that to suppress and exploit the millions, the machine is the devil par excellence, it had no place in mans economy if, as social units, all men were to be equal. It is my belief that the machine has not added to mans stature and it will not serve the world but disrupt it, unless it is put in its proper place.
Then I read Ruskins Unto This Last during a train journey to Durban and it gripped me immediately. I saw clearly that, if mankind was to progress and to realize the ideal of equality and brotherhood, it must adopt and act on the principle of Unto This Last. It must take along with it even the dumb, the halt and the lame. Did not Yudhishthira, the Prince of Righteousness, refuse to enter heaven without his faithful dog? (H, 25-8-1946, p. 281)
Today there is such an onslaught on India of Western machinery that for India to withstand it successfully would be nothing short of a miracle. (H, 17-11-1946, p. 485)