Anarchy 44/Observations on Anarchy 42: Anarchism and Indian Thought

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The quota­tion from adi doctor’s book, which Tristram Shandy singles out as a valid ob­serv­a­tion, strikes me as a bit asinine. The Gandhi­ans cer­tainly preach against ma­teri­al­ism but they don’t tell the peas­ants that they should be satis­fied with their lot. They’ve been argu­ing for more at­ten­tion to be paid to rais­ing liv­ing stand­ards of the masses by con­cen­trat­ing on small scale pro­jects in agri­cul­ture which would bring pretty im­medi­ate re­turns, rather than some of the grandi­ose polit­ic­ally in­spired pro­jects whose re­turns are long run, if at all, and which ex­acer­bate the pres­ent in­fla­tion­ary trend. (There’s some signs that the gov­ern­ment under Shastri is begin­ning to see the point.) More gener­ally, the Gandhi­ans argue, sens­ibly it seems to me, that state­less com­mun­ism can’t be achieved if you adopt the ma­teri­al­istic stand­ards of the West. The trouble with the idea of free dis­trib­u­tion when com­bined with “ma­teri­al­ism” was pointed out by Keynes: There is never likely to be enough caviare to go round. A sens­ible lim­it­a­tion of people’s de­mands seems to be an in­dis­pens­able con­di­tion of free dis­trib­u­tion. In addi­tion, there’s the point that the multi­pli­ca­tion of wants in the West, engin­eered by the ad­vertis­ing racket, pro­vides a very useful means of so­cial con­trol by the rulers. The big stick is a very crude means of con­trol; the dan­gling carrot is much better. Naked power is trans­formed into mani­pu­lat­ive power. Gandhi latched on to the truth pointed out by Rousseau speak­ing of the Red Indians: How do you en­slave men who go naked in the chase? Gandhi’s and Vinoba’s suc­cess, such as it is, stemmed in large part from the ap­pli­ca­tion of this prin­ciple. Gandhi once said: “My en­emies can do me no harm for I have no­thing to lose, as they have no­thing to gain.” Gilbert Murray writ­ing about Gandhi also saw the point: “Per­sons in power should ve very care­ful how they deal with a man who cares no­thing for sen­sual pleasure, no­thing for riches, no­thing for com­fort or praise or pro­mo­tion, but is simply deter­mined to do what he be­lieves to be right. He is a dan­ger­ous un­com­fort­able enemy—because his body, which you can al­ways con­quer, gives you so little pur­chase upon his soul.” After a couple of years as a priv­i­leged pluto­crat in this god­dam half-starved coun­try, I ap­pre­ci­ate the so­cio­log­ical sig­nif­i­cance of the old say­ing about the rich man find­ing it easier to pass through the eye of a needle, etc. When one is al­most in­fin­itely better off than most other people around one, one can’t behave de­cently ex­cept by ceas­ing to be better off. What I ad­mire about Gandhi, in con­trast to paper anar­chists like me (and most of us) is that he really be­lieved what he said, i.e. his be­liefs were ex­ist­en­tial, ex­pressed in action.