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


45. Trusteeship

To me the Gita become an infallible guide of conduct. It became my dictionary of daily reference. Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials. Words like Aparigraha (non-possession) and Samabhava (equability) gripped me. How to cultivate and preserve that equability was the question. How was one to treat a like insulting, insolent and corrupt officials, co-workers of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and men who had always been good to one? How was one to divest oneself of all possessions? Was not the body itself possession enough? Were not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all the cupboards of books I had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him?  Straight came the answer: I could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had. My study of English law came to my help. Snell’s discussion of the maxims of Equity came to my memory. I understand more clearly in the light of the Gita teaching the implication of the word ‘trustee’. My regard for jurisprudence increased, I discovered in it religion. I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession and equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude.

An Autobiography, (1966), p. 198


Everything belonged to God and was from God. Therefore it was for His people as a whole, not for a particular individual. When an individual had more than his proportionate portion he became trustee of that portion for God’s people.

God who was all-powerful had no need to store. He created from day to day, hence men also should in theory live from day to day and not stock things. If this truth was imbibed by the people generally, it would become legalized and trusteeship would become a legalized institution. He wished it became a gift from India to the world. Then there would be no exploitation and no reserves as in Australia and other countries for white men and their posterity. In these distinctions lay the seeds of a war more virulent than the last two. As to the successor, the trustee in office would have the right to nominate his successor subject to legal sanction.

Harijan, 23-2-47, p. 39


My idea of society is that while we are born equal, meaning that we have a right to equal opportunity, 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 earnings only as trustees.

I am inviting those people who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e., owners, not in their own right, but owners, in the right of those whom they have exploited. I will not dictate to them what commission to take, but ask them to take what is fair, e.g., I would ask man who possesses Rs. 100/-to take Rs. 50/- and give the other Rs 50/-to the workers. But to him who possesses Rs. 1,00,00,000/- I would perhaps say, take I percent for yourself. So you see that my commission would not be a fixed figure because that would result in atrocious injustice.

Young India, 26-11-31, pp. 368-69


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 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 souls. This knowledge has grown within him slowly but surely. If this knowledge were to penetrate to and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and 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.

Harijan, 25-8-40, pp. 260-61


Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth-either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry, I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me, what belongs to me is the right to an honorable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. I enunciated this theory when the Socialist theory was placed before the country in respect to the possessions held by zamindars and ruling chiefs. They would do away with these privileged classes. I want them to outgrow their greed and sense of possession, and to come down in spite of their wealth to the level of those who earn their bread by labour. The labourer has to realize that wealthy man is less owner of his wealth than the labourer is owner of his own viz., the power to work.

The question how many can be real trustees according to this definition is beside the point. If the theory is true, it is immaterial whether many live up to it or only one man lives up to it. The question is of conviction. If you accept the principle of Ahimsa, you have to strive to live up to it, no matter whether you succeed or fail. There is nothing in this theory which can be said to be beyond the grasp of intellect, though you may say it is difficult of practice.

Harijan, 3-6-39, p. 145


You may say that trusteeship is a legal fiction. But if people meditate over it constantly and try to act up to it, then life on earth would be governed far more by love than it is at present. Absolute trusteeship is an abstraction like Euclid’s definition of a point, and is equally unattainable. But if we strive for it, we shall be able to go further in realizing a state of equality on earth than by any other method….It is my firm conviction that if the State suppressed capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the evils of violence itself and fail to develop non-violence at any time. The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence. Hence I prefer to doctrine of trusteeship…. The fear is always there that the State may use too much violence against those who differ from it. I would be very happy indeed if the people concerned behaved as trustees; but if they fail, I believe we shall have to deprive them of their possessions through the State with the minimum exercise of violence.…That is why I said at the Round Table Conference that every vested interest must be subjected to scrutiny, and confiscation ordered where necessary with or without compensation as the case demanded. What I would personally prefer would be not a centralization of power in the hands of the State, but an extension of the sense of trusteeship; as in my opinion the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State. However, if it is unavoidable, I would support a minimum of state-ownership.

Modern Review, (1935), p. 412


My theory of ‘trusteeship’ is no make-shift, certainly no camouflage. I am confident that it will survive all other theories. It has the sanction of philosophy and religion behind it. That possessors of wealth have not acted up to the theory does not prove its falsity; it proves the weakness of the wealthy. No other theory is compatible with non-violence. In the non-violent method the wrong-doer compasses his own end, if he does not undo the wrong. For, either through non-violent non-co-operation he is made to see his error, or he finds himself completely isolated.

Harijan, 16-12-39, p. 376


I have no hesitation in endorsing the proposition that generally rich men and for that matter most men are not particular as to the way they make money. In the application of the method of non-violence, one must believe in the possibility of every person, however, depraved, being reformed under humane and skilled treatment. We must appeal to the good in human beings and expect response. Is it not conductive to the well-being of society that every member uses all his talents, only not for personal aggrandizement but for the good of all? We do not want to produce a dead equality where every person becomes or is rendered incapable of using his ability to the utmost possible extent. Such a society must ultimately perish. I therefore suggest that my advice that moneyed men earn their crores (honestly only, of course) but so as to dedicate them to the service of all is perfectly sound. तेन त्यक्तेन भुंजीथाः  is mantra based on uncommon knowledge. It is the surest method to evolve a new order of life of universal benefit in the place of the present one where each one lives for himself without regard to what happens to his neighbour.

Harijan, 22-2-42, p. 49


As for the present owners of wealth, they will have to make their choice between class war and voluntarily converting themselves into trustees of their wealth. They will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without exploitation.

The State would regulate the rate of commission which they will get commensurate with the service rendered and its value to society. Their children will inherit the stewardship only if they prove their fitness for it.

Supposing India becomes a free country tomorrow, all the capitalists will have an opportunity of becoming statutory trustees. But such a statue will not be imposed from above. It will have to come from below.

When the people understand the implications of trusteeship and the atmosphere is ripe for it, the people themselves beginning with Gram panchayats-1 will begin to introduce such statutes. Such a thing coming from below is easy to swallow. Coming from above it is liable to prove a dead weight.

Harijan, 31-3-46, pp. 63-64


If the trusteeship idea catches, philanthropy, as we know it, will disappear….  A trustee has no heir but the public. In a State built on the basis of non-violence, the commissions of trustees will be regulated. Princes and zamindars will be on a par with the other men and wealth.

Harijan, 12-4-42, p. 116


The doctrine of trusteeship stands on its own merits….

We must not underrate the business talent and know-how which the owning class have acquired through generations of experience and specialization. Free use of it would accrue to the people under my plan. So long as we have no power, conversion is our weapon by necessity, but after we get power, conversion will be our weapon of choice. Conversion must precede legislation. Legislation in the absence of conversion remains dead letter. As an illustration, we have today the power to enforce rules of sanitation but we can do nothing with it because the public is not ready.

“You say conversion must precede reform. Whose conversion? If you mean the conversion of the people, they are ready even today. If, on the other hand, you mean that of the owning class, we may as well wait till the Greek Kalends?”

I mean the conversion of both….

You see, if the owning class does not accept the trusteeship basis voluntarily, its conversion must come under the pressure of public opinion. For that public opinion is not yet sufficiently organized.

“What do you mean by poser?”

By power I mean voting power for the people -so broad-based that the will of the majority can be given effect to.

“Can the masses at all come into power by parliamentary activity?”

Not by parliamentary activity alone. My reliance ultimately is on the power of non-violent non-co-operation, which I have been trying to build up for the last twenty-two years.

Towards New Horizons, (1959), pp. 90-91


(On release of Gandhiji and his associates from detention in the Aga Khan Palace, the question of Trusteeship was taken up. Shri K. G. Mashruwala, Shri N.D. Parikh drew up a simple practical trusteeship formula which was placed before Mahatma Gandhi who made a few changes in it. The final draft read as follows :)

  Trusteeship provides a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one. It gives no quarter to capitalism, but gives the present owning class a chance of reforming itself. It is based on the faith that human nature is never beyond redemption.

  It does not recognize any right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare.

  It does not exclude legislative regulation of the ownership and use of wealth.

  Thus under State-regulated trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society.

  Just as it is proposed to fix a decent minimum living wage, even so a limit should be fixed for the maximum income that could be allowed to any person in society. The difference between such minimum and maximum incomes should be reasonable and equitable and variable from time to time so much so that the tendency would be towards obliteration of the difference.

  Under the Gandhian economic order the character of production will be determined by social necessity, and not by personal whim or greed.

Harijan, 25-10-52, p. 301


“When transformation of private property into public property has been achieved by the application of the doctrine of trusteeship, will the ownership vest in the State, which is an instrument of violence, or in associations of a voluntary character like village communes and municipalities, which may of course derive their final authority from State made laws?”

The question involves some confusion of thought. Legal ownership in the transformed condition shall vest in the trustee, not in the State. It is to avoid confiscation that the doctrine of trusteeship comes into play, retaining for society the ability of the original owner in his own right. Nor do I hold that the State must always be based on violence. It might be so in theory but it is possible to conceive a State which in practice would for the most part be based on non-violence.

“How would the successor of a trustee be determined? Will he only have the right of proposing a name, the right of finalization being vested in the State?”

The choice should be given to the original owner, who becomes the first trustee, but it must be finalized be the State. Such arrangement puts a check on the State as well as on the individual.

This did not mean that pending necessary legislation the transformation of the capitalists into trustees would be left to the sweet will of the capitalists. If they proved impervious to the appeal to reason, the weapon of non-violent non-co-operation would be brought into play. Force of circumstances will compel the reform unless they court utter destruction. When Panchayat Raj is established, public opinion will do what violence can never do.

Towards New Horizons, (1957), pp. 86-87


1. Village Councils