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Labour should know its strength

Q. How can workers obtain justice without violence? If capitalist use force to suppress their efforts, why should the workers not try to destroy their oppressors?

A.This of course is the old law, the law of the jungleblow against blow; I am endeavouring to make the nonviolent experiment, which I consider essential viz., that of getting rid of the law of the jungle which is illsuited to man.

You may not know that I am supposed to be the Chief Adviser of a Labour Union in a place called Ahmedabad which has commanded the unsolicited testimony of many labour experts, who have visited the place. Through this Labour Union, we have been endeavouring to enforce this method of non violence in connection with questions arising between capital and labour for the past fifteen years. Therefore, what I am now about to tell you is based upon actual experience, in the very line about which the question has been asked. In my humble opinion labour can always vindicate itself if labour is sufficiently united and selfsacrificing. No matter how oppressive the capitalists may be, I am convinced that those who are connected with labour and guide the labour movement have themselves no idea of the resources that labour can command and which capital can never command. If labour would only understand and recognize that capital is perfectly helpless without labour, labour will immediately come to its own.

We have unfortunately come under the hypnotic suggestion and the hypnotic influence of capital, so that we have come to believe that capital is all in all on this earth. But a moment’s thought would show that labour has at its disposal capital which the capitalists will never possess. Ruskin taught in his age that labour had unrivalled opportunities. But he spoke above our heads. At the present moment there is an Englishman, Sir Daniel Hamilton who is really making that very experiment. He is an economist. He is a capitalist also, but through his economic research and experiments he has come to  the same conclusion as Ruskin had arrived at intuitively, and he has brought to labour a vital message. He says it is wrong to think that a piece of metal constitutes capital. He says it is wrong even to think that so much produce is capital, but he adds that if we go to the very source, it is labour that is capital, and that living capital is inexhaustible. It is upon that law that we have been working in the Labour Union at Ahmedabad. It has been that law under which we have been working in our fight against the Government. It is that law, the recognition of which delivered 1,700,000 people in Champaran inside six months from a century long tyranny. I must not tarry to tell you what that tyranny was, but those who are interested in that problem will be able to study every one of the facts that I have put before them. Now I will tell you what we have done. There is in English a very potent word, and you have it in French also, all the languages of the world have itit is “NO”, and the secret that we have hit upon is that when capital wants labour to say “Yes”, labour roars out “No”, if it means “NO”. And immediately labour comes to recognize that it has got the choice before it of saying “Yes”, when it wants to say “Yes” and “No” when it wants to say “No”, labour is free of capital and capital has to woo labour. And it would not matter in the slightest degree that capital has guns and even poison gas at its disposal. Capital would still be perfectly helpless if labour would assert its dignity by making good its “No”. Then labour does not need to  retaliate but labour stands defiant receiving the bullets and poison gas and still insists upon its “No”. The whole reason why labour  so often fails is that instead of sterilizing capital as I have suggested, labour, (I am speaking as a labour myself) wants to seize that capital and become capitalist itself in the worst sense of the term. And the capitalist therefore who is properly entrenched and organized, finding among the labourers also candidates for the same office, makes use of a portion of these to suppress labour. If we really were not under this hypnotic spell, everyone of us, men and women, would recognize this rock bottom truth without the slightest difficulty. Having proved it for myself, through a series of experiments carried on in different departments of life, I am speaking to you with authority (you will pardon me for saying so) that when I put this scheme before you, it was not as something superhuman but as something within the grasp of every labourer, man or woman. Again, you will see that what labour is called upon to do under this scheme of non violence is nothing more than the Swiss soldier does under gun fire or the ordinary soldier who is armed from top to toe is called upon to do. While he undoubtedly seeks to inflict death and destruction upon his adversary, he also carries his own life in his pocket. I want labour, then, to copy the courage of the soldier without copying the brute in the soldier, namely the ability to inflict death, and I suggest to you that a labourer who courts death and has the courage to die without even carrying arms, with no weapons of self- defense, shows a courage of a much higher degree than a man who is armed from top to toe.

Young India, 14-1-1932, p. 178