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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Economic Equality

 

Economic Equality

Inequalities in intelligence and even opportunity will last till the end of time. A man living on the banks of a river has any day more opportunity of growing crops than one living in an arid desert. But if inequalities stare us in the face, the essential equality too is not to be missed. (YI, 26-3-1931, p. 49)

My Idea of Society
My idea of society is that while we are born equal, meaning that we have a right to equal opportunities, all have not the same capacity. It is, in the nature of things, impossible. For instance, all cannot have the same height, or colour or degree of intelligence, etc.; therefore, in the nature of things, some will have ability to earn more and others less.
People with talents will have more, and they will utilize their talents for this purpose. If they utilize their talents kindly, they will be performing the work of the State. Such people exist as trustees, on no other terms.

I would allow a man of intellect to earn more, I would not cramp his talent. But the bulk of his greater earnings must be used for the good of the State, just as the income of all earning sons of the father go to the common family fund. They would have their earning only as trustees. (YI, 26-11-1931, p.368)


For I want to bring about an equalization of status. The working classes have all these centuries been isolated and relegated to a lower status. They have been shoodras, and the word has been interpreted to mean an inferior status. I want to allow no differentiation between the son of a weaver, of an agriculturist and of a schoolmaster. (H, 15-1-1938, p. 416)

Removal of Disparity
Economic equality of my conception does not mean that everyone will literally have the same amount. It simply means that everybody should have enough for his or her needs. …The real meaning of economic equality is "To each according to his need." That is the definition of Marx. If a single man demands as much as a man with wife and four children, that will be a violation of economic equality.

Let no one try to justify the glaring difference between the classes and the masses, the prince and the pauper, by saying that the former need more. That will be idle sophistry and a travesty of my argument.

The contrast between the rich and the poor today is a painful sight. The poor villagers are exploited by…their own countrymen-the city-dwellers. They produce the food and go hungry. They produce milk and their children have to go without it. It is disgraceful.
Everyone must have a balanced diet, a decent house to live in, and facilities for the education of one's children and adequate medical relief….

Under my plan the State will be there to carry out the will of the people, not to dictate them or force them to do its will. I shall bring about economic equality through non-violence, by converting the people to my point of view by harnessing the forces of love as against hatred. I will not wait till I have converted the whole society to my view, but will straightaway make a beginning with myself. It goes without saying that I cannot hope to bring about economic equality of my conception if I am the owner of fifty motor cars or even of ten bighas of land. For that I have to reduce myself to the level of he poorest of the poor. (H, 31-3-1946, p. 63)


All must have equal opportunity. Given the opportunity, every human being has the same possibility for spiritual growth. (H, 17-11-1946, p. 404)


Accumulation [of capital] by private persons is impossible except through violent means, but accumulation by the State in a non-violent society is not only possible, it is desirable and inevitable. [No man has the] moral right ['to use any material or moral wealth accumulated only through the help or co-operation of other members of society mainly for personal advantage. (H, 16-2-1947, p. 25)


Today there is gross economic inequality. The basis of socialism is economic equality. There can be no Ramarajya in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which a few rolls in riches and the masses do not get even enough to eat. (H, 1-6-1947, p. 172)

Doctrine of Equal Distribution
We want to organize our national power. This can be done not by adopting the best methods of production only but by the best method of both the production and the distribution. (YI, 28-7-1920, p. 5)


What India needs is not the concentration of capital in a few hands, but its distribution so as to be within easy reach of the 7 1/2 lakhs of villages that make this continent 1900 miles long and 1500 miles broad. (YI, 23-3-1921, p. 93)


My ideal is equal distribution, but so far as I can see, it is not to be realized. I therefore work for equitable distribution. (YI, 17-3-1927, p. 86)


The real implication of equal distribution is that each man shall have the wherewithal to supply all his natural needs and no more. For example, if one man has a weak digestion and requires only a quarter of a pound of flour for his bread and another needs a pound, both should be in a position to satisfy their wants.

New Social Order
To bring this ideal into being the entire social order has got to be reconstructed. A society based on non-violence cannot nurture any other ideal. We may not perhaps be able to realize the goal, but we must bear it in mind and work unceasingly to near it.
To the same extent as we progress towards our goal we shall contentment and happiness, and to that extent too shall we have contributed towards the bringing into being of a non-violent society.

It is perfectly possible for an individual to adopt this way of life without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can observe a certain rule of conduct, if follows that a group of individuals can do like wise. It is necessary for me to emphasize the fact that no one need wait for anyone else in order to adopt a right course. Men generally hesitate to make a beginning if they feel that the objective cannot be had in its entirety. Such an attitude of mind is in reality a bar to progress.

Through Nonviolence
Now let us consider how equal distribution can be brought about through non-violence. The first step towards it for him who has made this ideal part of his being is to bring about the necessary changes in his personal life. He would reduce his wants to a minimum, bearing in mind the poverty of India. His earnings would be free of dishonesty. The desire for speculation would be renounced. His habitation would be in keeping with his new mode of life. There would be self-restraint exercised in every sphere of life. When he has done all that is possible to preach this ideal among his associates and neighbour.

Indeed, at the root of this doctrine of equal distribution must lie that of the trusteeship of the wealthy for superfluous wealth possessed by them. For according to the doctrine they may not possess a rupee more than their neighbours.

How is this to be brought about? Non-violently? Or should the wealthy be dispossessed of their possessions? To do this we would naturally have to resort to violence. This violent action cannot benefit society. Society will be the poorer, for it will lose the gifts of a man who knows how to accumulate wealth. Therefore the non-violent way is evidently superior. The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the society. In this argument, honesty on the part of the trustee is assumed.

Change in Human Nature
As soon as a man looks upon himself as a servant of society, earns for its sake, spends for its benefit, then purity enters into his earnings and there is ahimsa in his venture. Moreover, if men's minds turn towards this way of life, there will come about a peaceful revolution in society and that without any bitterness.
It may be asked whether history at any time records such a change in human nature. Such changes have certainly taken place in individuals. One may not perhaps be able to point to them in a whole society. But this only means that up till now there has never been an experiment on a large scale on non-violence.

Applicability of Ahimsa
Somehow or other the wrong belief has taken possession of us that ahimsa is pre-eminently a weapon for individuals and its use should, therefore, be limited to that sphere. In fact this is not the case. Ahimsa is definitely an attribute of society. To convince people of this truth is at once my effort and my experiment.

In this age of wonders no one will say that a thing or idea is worthless because it is new. To say it is impossible because it is difficult is again not in consonance with the spirit of the age. Things undreamed of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamed of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of non-violence. The history of religion is full of such examples….

If, however, in spite of the utmost effort, the rich do not become guardians of the poor in the true sense of the term and the latter are more and more crushed and die of hunger, what is to be done? In trying to find out the solution of this riddle, I have lighted on non-violent non-co-operation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means. The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society.

Man has been conversant with violence from the beginning, for he has inherited this strength from the animal in his nature. It was only when he rose from the state of a quadruped (animal) to that of a biped (man) that the knowledge of the strength of ahimsa entered into his soul. This knowledge has grown within him slowly but surely. If this knowledge were to penetrated to and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves by means of non-violence from the crushing inequalities which have brought them to the verge of starvation. (H, 25-8-1940, pp. 260-1)