Back | Next



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
The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to make atrophied the limbs of man.
(YI, 13-11-1924, p. 378)

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.
(H, 30-11-1935, p. 329)

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.
(H, 29-8-1936, p. 228)

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
Machinery is like a snake-hole which may contain from one to a hundred snakes. Where there is machinery, there are large cities; where there are large cities, there are tram-cars and railways. And there only does one see electric light. Honest physician will tell you that where means of artificial locomotion have increased, the health of the people has suffered. I remember that, when in a European town there was scarcity of money, the receipts of the tramway company, of the lawyers and of the doctors went down, and the people were less unhealthy. I cannot recall a single good point in connection with machinery. (HS, p. 96)

Saving of Labour
What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving money. Men go on ‘saving labour’ till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all.

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 conjuror’s 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.
(H, 16-5-1936, p. 111)

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)

Mass-production takes no note of the real requirement of the consumer. If mass-production were in itself a virtue, it should be capable of indefinite multiplication. But it can be definitely shown that mass-production carries within it its own limitations. If all countries adopted the system of mass-production, there would not be a big enough market for their products. Mass-production must then come to a stop. (H, 2-11-1934, p. 301)

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.
[I envisage] mass-production, certainly, but not based on force. After all, the message of the spinning-wheel is that. It is mass-production, but mass-production in people’s own homes. If you multiply individual production to millions of times, would it not give you mass-production of a tremendous scale?
(ibid, pp. 301, 302)

Concentration of Wealth
I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not the philanthropy to save labour, but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might….
(YI, 13-11-1924, p. 378)

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.
(H, 14-9-1935, p. 244)

When production and consumption both become localized, the temptation to speed up production, indefinitely and at any price, disappears. All the endless difficulties and problems that our present-day economic system present, too, would then come to an end….. There would be no unnatural accumulation of hoards in the pockets of the few and want in the midst of plenty in regard to the rest….

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 terms—hence 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)

No Exploitation
Thus Lancashire men will cease to use their machinery for exploiting India and other countries, but on the contrary they will devise means of enabling India to convert in her own villages her cotton into cloth. Not will Americans under my scheme seek to enrich themselves by exploiting the other races of the earth through their inventive skill. (YI, 27-9-1925, p. 321)

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.
(YI, 22-10-1931, p. 318)

Place of Machinery
Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace necessary human labour….

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
Ours has been described as the machine age because the machine dominates our economy. ‘Now, what is machine?’ one may ask. In a sense, man is the most wonderful machine in creation. It can neither be duplicated nor copied. I have, however, used the word not in its wider sense, but in the sense of an appliance that tends to displace human or animal labour instead of supplementing it or merely increasing its efficiency.
This is the first differential characteristic of the machine. The second characteristic is that there is no limit to its growth or evolution. This cannot be said of human labour. There is a limit beyond which its capacity or mechanical efficiency cannot go. Out of this circumstance arises the characteristic of the machine.

It seems to be possessed of a will or genius of its own. It is antagonistic to man’s 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 man’s economy if, as social units, all men were to be equal. It is my belief that the machine has not added to man’s stature and it will not serve the world but disrupt it, unless it is put in its proper place.

Then I read Ruskin’s 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)