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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section VII : Economic Ideas > The place of machinery

47. The place of machinery

Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace the necessary human labour. An improved plough is a good thing. But if by some chance, one man 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 the 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.

Young India, 5-11-25, p. 377

That use of machinery is lawful which sub serves the interest of all.

Young India, 15-4-26, p. 142

I would favour the use of the most elaborate machinery if thereby India’s pauperism and resulting idleness be avoided. I have suggested hand-spinning as the only ready means of driving away penury and making famine of work and wealth impossible. The sinning –wheel itself is a piece of valuable machinery, and in my own humble way I have tried to secure improvements in it keeping with the special conditions of India.

Young India, 3-11-21, p. 350

“Are you against all machinery?”

My answer is emphatically, ‘No’. But I am against its indiscriminate multiplication. 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 cottages, I should welcome.

Young India, 17-6-26, p. 218

What I object to, is the craze for machinery not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. 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; 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 back 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.

“Then you are fighting not against machinery as such, but against its abuses which are so much in evidence today.”

I would unhesitatingly say ‘yes’; but I would add that scientific truths and discoveries should first of all cease to be mere instruments of greed. Then labourers will not be over-worked and machinery, instead of becoming a hindrance, will be a help. I am aiming, not at eradication of all machinery, but their limitation.

“When logically argued out, that would seem to imply that all complicated power-driven machinery should go.”

It might have to go out but I must make one thing clear. The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to make atrophied the limbs of man. For instance, I would make intelligent exceptions. Take the case of the Singer Sewing machine. It is the one of few useful things ever invented, and there is a romance about the device itself. Singer saw his wife laboring over the tedious process of sewing and seaming with her own hands, and simply out of his love for her he devised the Sewing Machine in order to save her from unnecessary labour. He, however, to saved not only her labour but also the labour of everyone who could purchase a sewing machine.

“But in that case there would have to be a factory for making these Singer Sewing Machines, and it would have to contain power-driven machinery of ordinary type.”

Yes, but I am socialist enough to say that such factories should be nationalized, or State-controlled. They ought only to be working under the most attractive and ideal conditions, not for profit, but for the benefit of humanity, love taking the place of greed as the motive. It is an alteration in the condition of labour that I want. This mad rush for wealth must cease, and the labourer must be assured, not only of a living wage, but a daily task that is not a mere drudgery. The machinery will, under these conditions, be as much a help to the man working it as the State, or the man who owns it. The present mad rush will cease, and labourer will work (as I have said) under attractive and ideal conditions. This is but one of the exceptions I have in mind. The Sewing Machine had love at its back. The individual is one supreme consideration. The saving of labour of the individual should be the object, and the honest humanitarian consideration, and not greed, the motive. Replace greed by love and everything will come right.

Young India, 13-11-24, p. 378

“You are against this machine age, I see.”

To say that is to caricature my views. I am not against machinery as such, but I am totally opposed to it when it masters us.

“You would not industrialize India?”

I would indeed, in my sense of the term. The village communities should be revived. Indian villages produced and supplied to the Indian towns and cities all their wants. India became impoverished when our cities became foreign markets and began to drain the villages dry by dumping cheap and shoddy goods from foreign lands.

“You would then go back to the natural economy?”

Yes. Otherwise I should go back to the city. I am quite capable of running a big enterprise, but I deliberately sacrificed the ambition, not as a sacrifice, but because my heart rebelled against it. For I should have no share in the spoliation of the nation which is going on from day to day. But I am industrializing the village in a different way.

Harijan, 27-2-37, p. 18

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 about in a round about 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 none for speculation.

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 presents too, would then come to an end.

“Then, you do not envisage mass-production as an ideal future of India?”

Oh yes, 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 time, would it not give you mass-production on a tremendous scale? But I quite understand that your ‘mass-production’ is a technical term for production by the fewest possible number through the aid of highly complicated machinery. I have said to myself that that is wrong. My machinery must be of the most elementary type which I can put in the homes of the millions.

Harijan, 2-11-34, pp. 301-02

I know that man cannot live without industry. Therefore, I cannot be opposed to industrialization. But I have a great concern about introducing machine industry. The machine produces much too fast, and brings with it a sort of economic system which I cannot grasp. I do not want to accept something when I see its evil effects which outweigh whatever good it brings with it. I want the dumb millions of our land to be healthy and happy and I want them to grow spiritually. As yet for this purpose we do not need the machine. There are many, too many idle hands. But as we grow in understanding, if we feel the need of machines, we certainly will have them. We want industry, let us become industrious. Let us become more self-dependent, then we will not follow the other people’s lead so much. We shall introduce machines if and when we need them. Once we have shaped our life on Ahimsa, we shall know how to control the machine.

Towards New Horizons, (1959), pp. 45-46