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One man changed the World for all times!

Comprehensive Website on the life and works of

Mahatma Gandhi


Project on What "other" voices are out there to counter Eurocentric development?

This project was submitted by Karen M Browne studying MA in Culture and Colonialism in N.U.I Galway, Galway City Ireland.

The concept of development and indeed the concept of "Other" voices as we conceive of them are products of Europe and the West in general. The West sees development as a linear progression from a traditional, primitive status to a modern, industrialized, capitalist system based on the golden idea of free trade. It is this binary opposition that leads to the West believing that Third World countries are backward and need to accept Western ideals if they ever want to reach modernity. As Vincent Tucker [1] defines it: 'Development is the process whereby other peoples are dominated and their destinies are shaped according to an essentially Western way of conceiving the world', this desire to eliminate difference between the Worlds is inherent in Euro centric development and leads to Third World nations being confined to the status of "Other". Euro centric development is structured in a way that places these "Others" in a situation of dependence on the West for technology, expertise, and loans which lead to crippling debts. Many of these nations have, and continue to see, the Western model as their guideline and have followed the rules of Euro centric development. However, "Other" voices have emerged to counter the imposition of Western ideals, economic dependence, and their own governments who have employed these methods blindly. This is not to say that these voices are abandoning the idea of development entirely but are instead opting for a different mode of development, one that is centered in their own traditions, a mode that is separate from and counter to Euro centric development.

It is the purpose of this essay to examine the emergence of one of the most powerful "Other" voices in countering Euro centric development, that of Mahatma Gandhi, whose writings reveal an alternative mode of development for India.

What motivated the implementation of Euro centric development in India in terms of both economics and culture was its colonization by the British, a nation who believed that their civilization was superior to all others. Gandhi believed this civilization to be Satanic and takes the British belief in its superiority to task. European civilization believed itself to be superior because of its level of modernity and development but Gandhi believed these to be no mark of superiority because they added nothing to the morality of the civilization. What makes this view especially "Other" is the fact that Gandhi does not separate the values of morality and ethics from those of science and rationality but rather sees them as twin concepts where the loss of morality leads to a Satanic desire for railways and the other trappings of Euro centric development. This does not mean that Gandhi advocates the complete destruction of railways and telegraphs in fact he can see that they can be of avail to humanity, what he objects to is the use of industry to exploit people in the name of capitalism and development. Unlike many objectors to Western ways, Gandhi could see beyond the specificities of his own situation to the reality that certain aspects of development can be valuable. He is not blinded by his desire for Indian independence and thus is not motivated to destroy all modern technology out of retaliation. He stands in opposition to the greater system at work rather than the minor details of it.

What further makes his an "Other" voice in comparison to other oppositional forces is his refusal to use arms to disable the system not that he doesn't acknowledge the desire within him for this destruction, for he realizes that to do so would be to perpetuate the system surrounding development rather than putting a stop to it. As he is quick to point out the use of violence may rid India or any other nation of its present administrators more will follow in their wake because as long as the system exists a way will be found to use it for Euro centric development.

In the context of the backdrop of civilization what makes Gandhi thoroughly "Other" is that he does not dismiss the West entirely, quite the opposite is true, he firmly believed that India had much to gain from the West and that the West has its own wisdom. What the West and the British in particular, may have found particularly threatening and disquieting in Gandhi was his unique ability to accept and reject the West simultaneously: "My resistance to Western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asia tics are fit only to copy everything that comes from the West" [2]. It is not the West per se that Gandhi objects to but rather what its inhabitants do abroad. It is from this stance on civilization that Gandhi launches his more detailed attacks on Euro centric development and puts his concept of development and the true path for India forward.

Gandhi's crusade against Euro centric development is centered on the notion of simplicity and the quest for a return to it. The machinery or rather the craze for it, held so dear by the West is in opposition to this quest and he views machinery as an obstacle to Man achieving happiness, which also links in to his ideas on industrialization, which will be dealt with in more detail anon.

As with Western civilization Gandhi does not object to machinery in itself but objects to the uses of it for greed by the few. The basic premise is that: "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" [3] .This concept is not unique to the Indian situation as the practice of developing machinery to replace people led to unemployment in European nations although not on the same scale as India. What is also common between these different situations is greed plain and simple, machines work faster than people so there will be a higher level of produced goods to sell and thus higher profits. The desire to eradicate this is entirely "Other" to the Western idea of capitalism. Gandhi's solution is to localize both production and consumption, that each area would produce only what it needed to consume thus eliminating the need for machinery and mass production. The economic relationship between different locales would be based on an exchange of goods, the exchange of surplus grain for paraffin oil. Gandhi realizes that many in the West would dismiss such a system as being a return to primitive bartering but pre-empts this accusation by posing a rhetorical question: "But is not all international trade based on the barter system?" [4]. This "Other" conception cuts to the heart of free trade and the only real difference between Gandhi's system and that of the European is that India would barter goods for goods whereas the West barters goods for money, with a view for profit. What is particularly disquieting here for Euro centric development is that despite their claims of superiority because of modern development is not really that much different from the much older Indian model. This very concept of localized production is one that continues into other peripheral social movements and not just particular to British India. As Samir Amin [5] points out in a general summary of resistance to capitalist mass production: "the opening up of a space for commodity relations- for small-scale production entrusted to capitalist enterprise, to which government is almost always spontaneously hostile but which often ends up having to accept- shows, almost unfailingly, its efficiency in the shape of rapid improvement of production and living standards and thereby achieves its popularity". The entirety of this statement may not be true of India but what is accurate in relation to Gandhi is that local production by local people for local needs does increase living standards as everyone is provided for and Gandhi's social movement was indeed with hostility by the development geared European government and it did achieve immense popularity both then and now.

Gandhi's attack on industrialization is even more scathing than that on machinery. For him: "industrialism depends entirely on your capacity to exploit, on foreign markets being open to you, and on the absence of competitors..." it is this Western path that Gandhi does not want India to follow because "if an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts [6]. Gandhi's proposal to counter these extremes in Indian capitalists is a return to village industry, to the spinning wheel, it is a return because the advent of Western industrialization had diverted attention away from the villages and their industries in order to destroy them, Gandhi's plan of action aims to both avert and counter this developing destruction.

The village industry is centered on the idea of a collective of people working together for the common welfare of the locality. Gandhi believed that these industries should be state owned, as this would prevent individuals commandeering the system I order to attain profit for them by exploiting his/ her workmates and neighbors. This concept is "Other" to the Euro centric concept of development because it is not based on competition between the machinery of individuals but rather on a collective working under state controlled industry for local needs rather than foreign markets. This is of course a central part of Marxism and socialism in a more general sense and many would have argued that in proposing this Gandhi was merely swapping one Euro centric idea for another but Gandhi had more than one answer for these sceptics as he was fully aware that he was putting a socialist pattern of society forward. What is most important in Gandhi's idea of state ownership as opposed to the Western idea of state ownership is that his is based on non- violence, in his own words: "I hold that the coming into power of the proletariat through violence is bound to fail in the end. What is gained through violence must be lost before superior violence" [7]. Gandhi's socialist state stands in opposition to Marxism's violent revolution as Gandhi's way was through a revolution of the mind; it is an Eastern form of socialism, "Other" to the Western model.

Gandhi does not dismiss all industries in the name of Eastern socialism as he admits that some industries are indeed necessary but his conception of this necessity in relation to his development theory is fundamentally different from European theory:

"Provided this character of the village industry is maintained [manufacturing mainly for use], there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only, they should not be used as a means of exploitations of others."[8]

At the heart of this is an idea of a common union of people aiming towards production for local needs where the captains of industry aim not for profit but for subsistence.

One of the major factors in Gandhi's development is the conception of the individual as the basic unit rather than large industrial firms where the individual is merely a cog in a larger scheme. The loss of a concern for the individual situation is a root of the craze of industrialization and this Western disregard leads to people being forced out of their jobs and left to wallow in the streets without any concern being shown by Western captains of industry. It is true to say that capitalism is based around the individual's desire for profit, that looking after number one is the be all and end all but Gandhi's individualism is as about as far removed from this attitude as is conceivable. His socialist Programme dictates that any such individualism would be unconscionable. This emphasis on the individual is not to dismiss the dependence all people have on each other, in fact relying on and being willing to help a neighbor or someone from a neighboring village is encouraged. The countering factor in the plan for village development is that this dependence should be a "voluntary play of mutual forces" [9], it would not be a system of dependent development as is propagated by Euro centric development. It would not be a microcosm of the relation between Britain and India where India is developed to serve Britain but rather a system where areas serve each other equally with no exploitation. These individuals unlike the individuals behind capitalism possess a social consciousness that orientates them towards serving the good of their own village and neighboring villages; the aim is simple, plain living uncomplicated by mass production, a craze for machinery and a desire for profit at the expense of others.

"Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of this oceanic circle of which they are integral units" [10]

As in previous instances Gandhi is aware that European developers may say that his plan is Utopian and he is duly aware that it may not be entirely achievable: "If Euclid's [Ancient Greek Mathematician] point, though incapable of being drawn by human agency, has an imperishable value, my picture has its own for mankind to live. Let India live for this true picture, though never realizable in its completeness" [11]. What is especially important here is the realization that nothing can be achieved without having both the means and end in sight even if that end may not be entirely attainable. This plan represents a resistance of both thought and action.

Gandhi's conception of the individual and his emphasis on village industry and Swadeshi (belonging to, or made in, one's own country) are very much linked to his quest for the emancipation of India and Indians as these two are separate issues. It is an emancipation that moves from the bottom up in ever increasing circles. Gandhi promotes self-sustaining villages because it provides work for each individual. In this scenario, each person has enough to eat and drink, which is the first step on the road to emancipation. Gandhi realizes that a man who is starving to death cares little about liberty, as his first priority is to fulfill his basic need for food. The desire of those who oppose Euro centric development to fulfill basic needs continues to this day in human rights and grassroots movements. It is emancipation from the depravation caused by Westerndevelopment that Gandhi is concerned with first and foremost: "If we want to give these people a sense of freedom we shall have to provide them with work which they can easily do in their desolate home and which would give them t least the barest living" [12]

It is not enough to tell a person that they have liberty; you must demonstrate that liberty to them by releasing them from the shackles of European industry and capitalism. For Gandhi salvation and progress for India does not lie in the hands of the faceless businessmen of the West but in the hands of those Indians who implement village industry. In order to inspire a hunger for liberty it is first necessary to quench the altogether more real hunger. It is a liberty not just from British rule but also from the trappings of Euro centric development. Gandhi's countering of Euro centric development is centered around providing just enough for each individual through village industry. Many of his ideas for Indian development may appear to be the stuff of dreams and perhaps this is true in part but Gandhi was the first to admit that he was Utopian and the ideals discussed above were not things he was certain were going to occur but that rather they were things to strive for. The skeptics of Gandhian thought both during his lifetime and today pose the question of whether such a simple life is attainable; Gandhi's reply to these people is perhaps the best summation of the plan of this immense "Other" voice in countering Euro centric development:

"The answer is straight and simple. If plain life is worth living, then the attempt is worth making, even though only an individual or group makes the effort" [13]

  1. See Munck and O'Hearn p.1.
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  5. See Amin, p.85.
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