Ghandi, Marx and the meaning of socialism


22/02/2016 by socialistfight

By Patrick Martens

This discussion article was published in Socialist Fight No 3, Autumn 2009. Ret Marut replied to it below on behalf of Socialist Fight in the same issue by the article: Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and the meaning of Revolution



Gandhi and Kasturbai with Harijan children at Bhavnagar, July 3, 1934

Louis Fischer. “You are a socialist and so are they.”


“I am, they are not. I was a socialist before many of them were born. I carried conviction to a rabid socialist in Johannesburg, but that is neither here nor there. My claim will live when their socialism is dead.”

In an extract from Gandhi’s interview with the American journalist, Louis Fischer (1896-1970) between 17 and 18 July 1926, we are introduced in no uncertain terms to the belief held by Gandhi that he subscribed to a particular form of socialism. Nehru commenting from his telling chapter on ‘Paradoxes’ in his Autobiography, noted that Gandhi often called himself a socialist but that ‘…he uses the word in a sense peculiar to himself which has little or nothing to do with the economic framework of society which usually goes by the name of socialism’. How did Gandhi view the term ‘socialism?’ I cited the difficulty in defining such a loose concept as socialism, I discuss Gandhi’s criticism of Western attempts to legitimise questionable forms of conduct including that of material progress. I then argue that Gandhi attempted to ‘flesh’ out his concept of socialism by entering into a dialogue with traditional Indian concepts of ‘karma’ and ‘bhoga’ ensuring its relevancy to India by re-asserting its true aims of morally sound social conduct. I then analysed how Gandhi’s form of socialism relates to Marx’s utterances on the same subject matter. I argue that Marx’s work was of deep interest to Gandhi particularly his concept of ‘species-being’ or ‘Gattungswesen’.

British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald during the course of his message to the Federation of Conservative and Unionist Associations at Edinburgh in January 1935 said: “The difficulties of the times make integration and concentration essential for every people. This is the true Socialism…” Cited as a footnote in Nehru’s Autobiography, Nehru comments in the main body of his text that following Gandhi’s lead ‘…a number of prominent Congressmen have taken to the use of that word (socialism), meaning thereby a kind of muddled humanitarianism. They err in distinguished company in the use of this vague political terminology, for they are but following the example of the Prime Minister of the British National Government.’

Louis Fischer. “What do you mean by your socialism?”


“My socialism means ‘even unto this last’. I do not want to rise on the ashes of the blind, the deaf and the dumb. In their socialism, probably these have no place. Their one aim is material progress. For instance, America aims at having a car for every citizen. I do not. I want freedom for full expression of my personality. I must be free to build a staircase to Sirius if I want to. That does not mean that I want to do any such thing. Under the other socialism, there is no individual freedom. You own nothing, not even your body.”

Gandhi’s interview with Fischer in 1926 offers an insight into what Gandhi thought socialism was not as opposed to a clear and concise definition of what he thought socialism to be. From Gandhi’s response we can see that he criticised what he called the ‘one aim’ of their socialism, being ‘material progress’. Gandhi had often cited material progress as an ill associated with that of Western Civilisation. Gandhi called Western nations ‘lands of bhoga’ a Gujarati term used to denote an offering, to a deity, of pleasures and enjoyments. Gandhi used the term ‘bhoga’ to suggest that material pleasure and advancement had been attributed a spiritual dimension in the West which had infiltrated and saturated the very ideas of modernity and progress. I believe Gandhi was commenting on the need of capitalism, the defining characteristic of Western Civilisation and its notions of modernity and progress, to legitimise its conduct.

As a necessary consequence of the emphasis on material advancement, Gandhi argued that the people, including most notably socialists of the Bolshevist persuasion, ‘lost all touch with the finer things of life’. By basing one’s deeds solely on the goal of material progress, Gandhi recognised the adverse effects this would have on the people’s ‘karma’. In Gujarati the term denotes action, deed, conduct, behaviour, fate, luck, religious rite, the effects of past lives on the present, evil, immorality and sin. For example the concept of rabid competition, heavily endorsed by capitalism, could only serve to undermine the virtue of social cooperation so highly placed with his policy of ‘Sarvodaya’.

Gandhi viewed the finer things in life as conducting virtuous behaviour that in turn would add to one’s ‘karma’, a concept not wholly alien to Western Civilisation in the form of Aristotle’s concept of ‘Eudaimonia’ or ‘human flourishing and happiness’. Bad ‘karma’ could cause considerable distress and unhappiness in one’s life by the effect of non-virtuous behaviour in a previous or present life. Gandhi believed India was a land of ‘karma’ where no amount of ideological persuasion and rhetorical tricks could legitimise morally questionable forms of behaviour as ultimately it would exhibit itself in one’s ‘karma’. By criticising the notion of material progress within certain forms of socialism, Gandhi attempted to remind Indians and Indian socialists alike that India will not and should not accept biased Western opinions of socialism, but ground it within its true aims of morally sound social conduct. For true economic equality lay not in material progress for all, as the Bolsheviks would argue, but according to Gandhi, in reducing oneself ‘to the level of the poorest of the poor.’ ‘That is what I have been trying to do for the last fifty years or more, and so I claim to be a foremost communist’.

Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (EPM) introduces his concept of [man’s alienation from his] ‘species-being’ as a third characteristic of alienated labour. In brief the first characteristic of alienated labour is that the product of labour stands over the worker as an alien object with considerable leverage over him due to objectification. The second characteristic of alienated labour is the self-alienation of the worker in that his own activity is alien to him and does not belong to him. According to Marx, ‘His labour is therefore not voluntary but compulsory, forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need but only a means to satisfy needs outside itself.’

The third characteristic of alienated labour is that it alienates from man his species-being in that it alienates man from his own body. Marx identifies three key relationships of man. Firstly man practically obtains subsistence in the form of food, clothing, shelter and warmth etc, from the objects of nature around him. In that sense man ‘makes the whole of nature into his inorganic body’. Secondly man makes plants, animals, the elements and light etc, part of his consciousness. From a theoretical perspective, man objectifies nature as his ‘intellectual inorganic body’. Thirdly man as part of his generic character objectifies his production as a duplication of himself ‘not only intellectually, in his mind, but also actively in reality and thus can look at his image in a world he has created.’

It is this third relationship of man to his production which Marx grounds his concept of species-being. According to Marx work, vital activity, and productive life have intrinsic value to man. That is man does not have to produce in accordance with a need but quite regularly produces in accordance with beauty. In a similar vein, according to John Ruskin whose work Unto This Last was by far the most influential work Gandhi had read (note Gandhi’s chapter ‘The Magic Spell of a Book’ in his Autobiogrhapy: My Experiments with Truth) ‘The largest quantity of work will not be done by this curious engine for pay, or under pressure, or by help of any kind of fuel which may be supplied by the cauldron.


Gandhi having his evening meal during the long conference with Lord Mountbatten, April 1947

It will be done only when the motive force, that is to say, the will or spirit of the creature, is brought to its greatest strength by its own proper fuel: namely, by the affections.’ What distinguishes man from animal is his ‘conscious vital activity’. Marx writes ‘It is this and this alone that makes man a species-being.’ Alienated labour undermines this essence of man and ‘degrades man’s own free activity to a means, it turns the species-life of man into a means for his physical existence.’ Within the EPM the concept of species-being serves as the backbone of much of Marx’s economic arguments. It forms the philosophical foundation for communism in that the suppression of private property, as ‘the product, result, and necessary consequence of externalised labour, of the exterior relationship of the worker to nature and to himself.’ is seen as the re-assertion of the species claim to all of nature. Man no longer subservient to an artificial need to acquire and commoditize that of which he already owns in essence. By returning to our true essence under Marx’s communist system, man no longer pre-supposes competition as the ‘envious desire to level down’.

Gandhi claimed in his socialism he wants ‘freedom for full expression of my personality. I must be free to build a staircase to Sirius if I want to. That does not mean that I want to do any such thing. Under the other socialism, there is no individual freedom. You own nothing, not even your body.” Gandhi posits that at the very least you should own your own body, which asserts a theoretical convergence of Gandhi and Marx’s thoughts. Marx suggested that alienated labour alienates from man his species-being in that it alienates man from his own body. Marx asserted a program to allow man to re-claim his species-being and thereby in turn reclaim his own body. Gandhi was stressing the importance of this concept to true socialism when he criticised Bolshevism for not allowing you to own anything. Gandhi recognised Marx’s attempts to ground socialism in the human collective essence or species-being. Indeed this concept may be argued to be the ‘permanent value’ that Ignazio Silone recognised in socialism. However Gandhi did not see Marx’s claims as unique and indeed commented that ‘The underlying belief of communism is good and as old as the hills.’

Gandhi, in his dialogue with socialism, placed it within the specific context of the day; namely Indian Independence and Indian socio-economic national progress. Collingwood’s observation that ‘you cannot find out what a man means by simply studying his spoken or written statements…In order to find out his meaning you must know what the question was (a question in his own mind, and presumed by him to be in yours) to which the thing he has said or written was meant as an answer’. I believe Gandhi had in mind one overriding question when entering into a dialogue with socialism and communism, and that was how to make it relevant to the solely Indian question of Indian Independence and Indian social improvement. Gandhi was sceptical of top down political ideologies. He ‘never sought to provide a grand political theory, e.g. an ideological system. He worked out his theory –his truths-as praxis, and understood that it had to evolve constantly in relation to his and other people’s experience.’ Gandhi rooted his knowledge of socialism within the method of ‘the dialogic – one in which knowledge is seen to arise from discussion, rather than from a unified philosophical system’. He therefore saw or rather presented Marx as re-asserting the already held belief by many Indians, that man is a species-being. However, in order to Indianise it and make it more relevant, Gandhi positioned the Indian concept of ‘Prakruti’ as the real ‘philosophical foundation to socialism’, an ‘underlying belief….as old as the hills.’

Gandhi saw Marx’s concept of species-being as an argument for man’s true nature. Gandhi’s concept of ‘nature’ was rooted in the Indian term ‘Prakruti’ which means ‘the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance, and the personified will of the Supreme in the creation.’ In many respects it points toward the ‘Truth’ of something, which was always so apparent in Gandhi’s thought.

Gandhi levelled the criticism against Marx that he failed to grasp fully the fundamental concept of ‘Ahimsa’ (to do no harm) so integral both to Gandhi’s own form of socialism but Marx’s as well. Marx recognised that ‘That man lives from nature means that nature is his body with which he must maintain a constant interchange so as not to die. That man’s physical and intellectual life depends on nature merely means that nature depends on itself, for man is a part of nature.’ Any destruction at all of man or indeed nature, according Gandhi would be an act contrary and in objection to man’s true essence, his species-being. Therefore one could only be a true socialist if one subscribed to the true nature of socialism, namely ‘Ahimsa’ that asserted the fundamental idea of man’s species being common and integral to both Gandhi and Marx’s ideology.

Gandhi suspected Marx’s writings whether rightly or wrongly ‘because of their association with violence. The very words ‘class war’ breathe conflict and violence and are thus repugnant to him.’ According to Gandhi if the means are right, that is man’s species-being is not subjected to ‘Ahimsa’, then the end is bound to be right. In a similar vein to Marx, Gandhi believed any genuine revolution would be a social one and that it would be a ‘consciously comprehended process of its becoming.’ Marx commented that ‘the hand mill will give you a society with the feudal lord, the steam engine a society with the industrial capitalist’. Gandhi could not envisage a better society built on the negation of the most fundamental principal of ‘Ahimsa’ and Marx committed a grave fallacy, as did many others, in believing this could be so. Indeed he pointed to Marx’s lack of foresight in not resolutely opposing violence and asserting ‘Ahimsa’ as Marx himself had recognised the bourgeois as creating a ‘world after its own image.’ Gandhi wanted ‘to improve the individual [and thus species-being] internally, morally and spiritually, and thereby to change the external environment.’ One would presume for the better.

According to Gandhi’s spirit of Aparigraha’ each who held assets, held them in ‘trust for the good of society. Gandhi disagreed with violent attempts associated with socialism (particularly Bolshevism) to destroy the capitalist. Gandhi instead invited the capitalist to ‘regard himself as a trustee for those on who he depends for the making, the retention and the increase of capital.’ Therefore Gandhi laid the emphasis on appealing to the good or indeed ‘socialist’ within the capitalist to change the current system as opposed to war amongst class lines.

In short the enemy was not the capitalist, but capitalism. The capitalist was still a species-being, part of one’s own nature according to his concept of ‘Ahimsa’. Therefore by propagating a policy by which one appealed to a spirit of service within the community such as ‘Sarvodaya’ and at the same time promoting the trusteeship of possession through ‘Aparigraha’, Gandhi appealed to the greater good in all and at the expense of none. He held up the notion of species-being or ‘Prakruti’ through ‘Ahimsa’ as the fundamental overriding doctrine within his Constructive Programme and indeed political ideology.

In conclusion, I believe Gandhi’s defining legacy to socialism was his continued attempts to exemplify the concept of species-being through his idea of ‘Ahimsa’. To Gandhi it was this and this alone that defined socialism and made it as ‘good and as old as the hills’. Gandhi concentrated on the philosophical foundation given to socialism by Marx (informed by Ludwig Feuerbach) and made it as relevant as possible to the question of Indian Independence and Indian socio-economic progress. Gandhi recognised and appreciated the need as any great thinker to ground political ideology in the problems of the day. He shared Nehru’s concerns that ‘To try and understand the complex problems of the modern world by an application of ancient methods and formulae when these problems did not exist, to use out-of-date phrases in regard to them, is to produce confusion and to invite failure.’ Gandhi himself approached the notion of ‘socialism’ as a historian in that he realised ‘that the history of political theory is not the history of different answers given to one and the same question, but the history of a problem more or less constantly changing, whose solution was changing with it.’

Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and the meaning of Revolution

Ret Marut (Gerry Downing) replies


 Jaswant Singh’s new book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim section of the Congress; controversy still rages on who was to blame for the partition, in truth both sections of the bourgeoisie were to blame but Jaswant credibly argues that Ghandi and not Jinnah bore the greater responsibility

In order to understand Ghandi we must understand the whole person; his philosophical, religious, social and political outlook which went to make up the man. But we must tackle them one at a time and then show the interrelationship of the separate aspects of his personality with the whole.

Ghandi’s philosophy and religion

We contend that Gandhi had a “narrow, metaphysical mode of thought” in that he separated socialism from its economic base and made it a purely moral and therefore idealistic and utopian aspiration which constantly confounded his notions of Ahimsa (to do no harm) and Karma (akin to the Christian theory of “sin” and “bad conscience”). This “true aims of morally sound social conduct” was being constantly disrupted by communal rioting, for instance, and Ghandi had no idea why this occurred; he would go on hunger strike in an attempt to stop these riots, material reality for him was just an immoral, sinful intrusion into his great plan of non-violent change. How do we characterise his philosophical/religious outlook? He claims he was an agnostic for a period before he fully intellectually embraced Hinduism through studying the traditional Indian Sanskrit books, the Upanishads. But in reality his South African freethinking was not agnosticm about religion but a spiritual agnosticism between religions (he studied Christianity). His philosophy contained a great deal of pantheism (as Hinduism does) and was close to the outlook of Albert Einstein.

Einstein considered himself an agnostic and his spirituality was closely similar to that taught by Buddha and much later by Spinoza – not unlike the ’paramarthika’ or the transcendental interpretation of the Vedanta delineated by Shankara in contrast to the Vyavaharika view held by the common man. In close parallel with the Hindu saints, especially Gautama Buddha and Shankara, he felt the futility of human desires….individual existence in pursuit of mundane materialistic goals impressed Einstein as a sort of prison and he felt a deep inner urge to experience the Universe as a significant whole.” Einstein and Gandhi – the meaning of life, Ramanath Cowsik – Director of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

The word pantheism was first coined by the Irish philosopher and freethinker John Toland (1670–1722) and was a revolutionary doctrine in its time, taking its inspiration from the writings of the old Roman Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 94 BCE- ca. 49 BCE), Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) and Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677). Gregori Plekhanov, the first Russian Marxist, and teacher of Lenin, recounts his agreement with Engels on Spinoza’s contribution in the following passage.

After visiting the Paris World Exhibition in 1889, I went to London to make Engels’s acquaintance. For almost a whole week, I had the pleasure of having long talks with him on a variety of practical and theoretical subjects. When, on one occasion, we were discussing philosophy, Engels sharply condemned what Stern had most inaccurately called “naturphilosophische materialism”. “So do you think,” I asked, “old Spinoza was right when he said that thought and extent (matter) are nothing but two attributes of one and the same substance?” “Of course,” Engels replied, “old Spinoza was quite right.”

The difficulty with this is that as a revolutionary doctrine pantheism had outlived its usefulness with the advent of the materialist thinkers of the Enlightenment, in particular Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789), who first set out the materialist outlook on life; “in 1770 he published Le Système de la Nature/The System of Nature, in which he denied the existence of God, explained sensibility and intellect as functions of matter, and asserted that happiness is the end of mankind”. ( “The attraction of Spinoza’s philosophy to late eighteenth-century Europeans was that it provided an alternative to materialism, atheism, and deism.

Three of Spinoza’s ideas strongly appealed to them: the unity of all that exists; the regularity of all that happens; and the identity of spirit and nature. Spinoza’s “God or Nature” provided a living, natural God, in contrast to the Newtonian mechanical “First Cause” or the dead mechanism of the French “Man Machine” (great watchmaker)” That is deism and pantheism enabled science to expel superstition from its practice (the scientific method) whilst repudiating the revolutionary implications of denying the existence of God might have on the mass of oppressed humanity – the masters of life needed religion as a method of social control yet it had to be expelled from scientific thought in order to allow the material forces of production to develop for the profits of capitalism. It is surely religion as social control that Gandhi aimed for in his Ahimsa and Karma.

Gandhi’s social and political outlook

The Trotskyist Tendency, a forerunner of the ITC, adopted this general position on socialism and its material basis:

“As revolutionary socialists, we Trotskyists aver with Marx and the First Workingmen’s International in 1867, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule”. Only the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the organised working class, led by a revolutionary socialist party based on the theoretical conquests of Marxism and Trotskyism (its modern form), can win a world planned socialised economy which will achieve full human liberation, the communist goal. This will end all human oppression manifest in alienation in all its religious and social forms. The violently oppressive capitalist state forces or those of the oppressive police/bureaucratic deformed workers’ states exist ultimately to protect and reinforce these relations, which are the fundamental ‘secret’ of continuing capitalist rule. Only when we “change the old conditions” by revolution can we achieve the full economic and social equality of all human beings, develop our real species-essence as egalitarian co-operative co-producers of life’s necessities by winning economic and political control over our own destinies. With Marx we defend “The Necessity for the Communist Revolution” as elaborated in The German Ideology. “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”

Gandhi rejected all of these, beginning with the material foundations for socialism. In fact his repudiation of western decadence and materialist outlook as sinful greed failed entirely to distinguish between social progress and capitalist values, equating the one with the other. Engels points out that,

“The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the Utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain. Society presented nothing but wrongs; to remove these were the task of reason. It was necessary, then, to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda, and, wherever it was possible, by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed as Utopian; the more completely they were worked out in detail, the more they could not avoid drifting off into pure fantasies.”

Comrade Martens says,

“Gandhi disagreed with violent attempts associated with socialism (particularly Bolshevism) to destroy the capitalist. Gandhi instead invited the capitalist to ‘regard himself as a trustee for those on who he depends for the making, the retention and the increase of capital.’ Therefore Gandhi laid the emphasis on appealing to the good or indeed ‘socialist’ within the capitalist to change the current system as opposed to war amongst class lines. In short the enemy was not the capitalist, but capitalism.”

This is indeed the political outlook most associated in the English-speaking world with Robert Owen. It is naive and wrong in that it is impossible to imagine that the capitalists, as a class, will voluntarily concede their privileges and positions of power for the good of the entire community, no matter how logical the arguments for socialism are presented. And they certainly did not do it in India, they chose communal violence, resulting in the deaths of between 200,000 and one million people and the mass migrations of tens of millions, to make sure that socialist revolution would not prevail. It has never happened in history that a ruling class ceded its place without civil war and revolution, and this involved the passing of power between sections of a ruling elite. Since the Paris Commune of 1871 the abolition of all ruling elites by the communist revolution has been posed, the muck of ages can only conceivably be swept away in violent revolution.

Engels points out that the Third Estate compromised all the “workers” both capitalists and their employees in an undistinguished mass as opposed to the,

“the privileged idle classes, the nobles and the priests. But the victory of the third estate soon revealed itself as exclusively the victory of a smaller part of this “estate”, as the conquest of political power by the socially privileged section of it – i.e., the propertied bourgeoisie… The knowledge that economic conditions are the basis of political institutions appears here only in embryo.

Yet what is here already very plainly expressed is the idea of the future conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things and a direction of processes of production – that is to say, the “abolition of the state”, about which recently there has been so much noise… Fourier (François Marie Charles Fourier, 1772 – 1837) … depicts, with equal power and charm, the swindling speculations that blossomed out upon the downfall of the Revolution, and the shopkeeping spirit prevalent in, and characteristic of, French commerce at that time.”

Gandhi was not just “commenting on the need of capitalism, the defining characteristic of western civilisation and its notions of modernity and progress, to legitimise its conduct” but was denying any other reason to seek human advancement. Besides human needs are social needs, it is impossible to ask a section of humanity not to desire an ipod or a sophisticated mobile phone, good motor car or decent accommodation. When these are denied to a large proportion of society crime and violence is the inevitable product. And if the oppressed begins to straighten their backs, if they look up and strike for the type of egalitarian society that humanity’s productive forces can produced very quickly if it is organised for the satisfaction of human needs then crime and violence becomes a thing of the past AFTER the resistance of the oppressors is violently broken. And who can doubt that, faced with the loss of all their privileges the ruling class will not react extremely violently, as they have always done in the past? This is what they did in India, in collaboration with Mountbatten in 1947, when Mohammad Ali Jinnah resorted to communal violence to found Pakistan because Gandhi was such a Hindu chauvinist.


Jallianwala Bagh memorial; Udhram Singh, “I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What a greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?”

Jallianwala Bagh

Surely there was no better opportunity to forcibly drive the British out of India than in the aftermath of the massacre in 1919 in the Jallianwala Bagh near the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The cold blooded massacre of some 1,500 in a mixed Hindu/Muslim/Seek demonstration was boasted about by Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer CB (1864 – 1927) the British Indian Army officer responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre when he appeared before the Hunter Commission that same year.

He admitted, “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.” But Ghandi and the Congress only called only for a non-violent protest movement and but the Moplah Riots broke out in 1921. According to Annie Besant: “They Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh (100,000) of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything”.

The Moplah rebellion was religious revivalism among the Muslim Moplahs, and hostility towards the landlord Hindu Nair Jenmi community and the British administration that supported the latter but this did not cause Gandhi to call off the non-violent protest. Because the leadership of the Congress made caste instead of class the question then there was no possibility of uniting Hindus and Muslims. This came about with the killing of twenty two policemen in Chauri Chaura in 1922, which Congress totally condemned but saw this as sufficient cause to call off the protest; this upset the British, communal riots only undermined the unity of India.

Ghandi’s defence of the deeply reactionary caste system is legendary, yet his actual words on it continue to appall even those who have illusions in his other utopian ideals. Here are just a few of his quotes with the year in which he wrote them, 1920:

“I believe that caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration… The beauty of the caste system is that it does not base itself upon distinctions of wealth-possessions. Money, as history has proved, is the greatest disruptive force in the world…. Caste is but an extension of the principle of the family. Both are governed by blood and heredity. Western scientists are busy trying to prove that heredity is an illusion and that milieu is everything. The… experience of many lands goes against the conclusions of these scientists; but even accepting their doctrine of milieu, it is easy to prove that milieu can be conserved and developed more through caste than through class.”

So ugly did he find Western-style competition that he would prohibit anyone who acquired a skill other than his “hereditary” one from earning a living by the new one, 1925:

“There is no harm if a person belonging to one varna acquires the knowledge or science and art specialized in by persons belonging to other varnas. But as far as the way of earning his living his concerned, he must follow the occupation of the varna to which he belongs, which means he must follow the hereditary profession of his forefathers. The object of the varna system is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war. I believe in the varna system because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons…. Varna means the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born…. In the varna system no man has any liberty to choose his occupation.”

India has systematically failed to uphold its international legal obligations to ensure the fundamental human rights of Dalits, or so-called untouchables, despite laws and policies against caste discrimination, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Human Rights Watch said in a recent report. More than 165 million Dalits in India are condemned to a lifetime of abuse simply because of their caste. (New York, February 13, 2007),


Bhagat Singh (1907 – 1931, above) went to the gallows with a defiant cry of Inkalab Zindabad! (“Long Live Revolution”) on his lips. His pamphlet. Why I am an Atheist, is available on

Bhagat Singh and socialism through revolution

The following presents an alternative analysis of Gandhi from an article assessing the political relevance of a revolutionary communist, executed by the British in 1931 from a Trotskyist perspective in the New Wave Blog:

“When Stalin was propelling his followers in India to associate themselves with Gandhi and Congress, Bhagat Singh was exposing the false preaching of Gandhi, through his writings in newspapers and leaflets. Bhagat Singh wrote “He (Gandhi) knew from the very beginning that his movement would end into some sort of compromise. We hate this lack of commitment….”. He further wrote about Congress “What is the motive of Congress? I said that the present movement will end into some sort of compromise or total failure. I have said so because in my opinion, the real revolutionary forces have not been invited to join the movement. This movement is being conducted only on the basis of few middle class shopkeepers and few capitalists. Both of these classes, specifically the capitalists cannot venture to endanger their property. The real armies of the revolution are in villages and factories, the peasants and workers. But our bourgeois leaders neither did dare to take them along with, nor can they do so. These sleeping tigers, once wake up from their slumber, are not going to stop even after the accomplishment of the mission of our leaders.” These words of Bhagat Singh found their endorsement when after the Bombay action of weavers, the leader of the national bourgeois, Gandhi, expressed the fear of its class, saying that “…. use of proletariat for political purpose is extremely dangerous”.

“Amazingly when the great leader of International Communist Movement, Leon Trotsky, was making severe criticism of Stalinist policy in India, making scathing attack upon Gandhi and Congress, around the same time Bhagat Singh was also making the political critique of this false leadership, on the same lines. It is not without reason that Bhagat Singh, unaware by then of the thoughts of Trotsky, was himself thinking on the same lines. He refused to collaborate with the Menshevik program of conciliation with national capitalists and till the end of his life remained consistent on this political position. Rather, he drew his source of inspiration from the action and program of Gadar party, instead of that of the CPI.

“As Bhagat Singh was thoroughly convinced of totally reactionary character of national capitalists, he did not subscribe to the views of the then Stalinist leadership of the CPI, of two stage theory of revolution- i.e. in first stage ‘alongside the capitalists’ and in second stage ‘against the capitalists’. Bhagat Singh did not believe in this farcical ‘two stage theory’ of revolution. For Bhagat Singh, the revolution was one stage episode- the socialist revolution, in which the power must fall essentially to the hands of working classes, with peasantry as its ally, of which the democratic tasks constituted a part. Bhagat Singh, unlike the Stalinists, never dreamt of a bourgeois republic, and never allowed the possibility of sharing the power between the workers-peasants on one side and capitalists on the other. For Bhagat Singh, neither the whole nor the part of the capitalists, was progressive or revolutionary. This flew in the face of the then political line of Comintern, which preached that in backward and colonial countries like India, national capitalists were ally of revolution and genuine fighters against the Imperialism. We all know how this conciliatory policy destroyed the proletarian revolution in China and how it prevented a proletarian upsurge in India.

“Bhagat Singh was a staunch opponent to the doctrines of ‘non-violence’, preached by Gandhi, which was nothing but a trap to hold back the workers and peasants from taking offensive against the property and the rule of capitalists. Bhagat Singh wrote about the preaching of Gandhi “…It was the principles of non-violence and compromising policy of Gandhi, which created a breach in the united waves that arose at the time of National Movement.” He brought forward vivid explanations enriching the revolutionary theory and experience of his time, in support and justification for the use of revolutionary violence by the new classes against the old ones in history. His writings were befitting reply to the docile, timid and virtually servile positions of Gandhi and his followers inside the Congress.

“No doubt, the perspective of Bhagat Singh, was limited by various factors including his very early age, extremely short life span, politically undeveloped environment, unfortunate slipping of the leadership of Soviet Union and Comintern to the hands of Stalinist bureaucracy which abandoned the perspective of world revolution in no time, etc. etc. Though, Stalinism stood as a wall between the waves of Great October Revolution and the revolutionary movement in the East, including India, even then, the waves of October Revolution, exerted immense influence upon young Bhagat Singh. While in Jail, at the end of his life, Bhagat Singh was going through the works of Lenin and Trotsky.

“Bhagat Singh was influenced by the sacrifice of Kartar Singh Sarabha, the organiser of Gadar Party in US, who planned a revolt in armed forces through penetration and political propaganda, in order to uproot the colonial regime, but was caught and hanged at the age of 19 years on the charges of sedition and waging war against the Empire. At the age of 23½ years, Bhagat Singh himself was hanged by Colonialists, with tacit understanding with bourgeois leadership in Congress, Gandhi at their head. This collusion between colonialists and Congress leadership is evident not only by the mysterious silence of these leaders on the issue, but also that Gandhi had categorically refused to make the sentence of Bhagat Singh, an issue at the round table conference.” (end extract).

Execution of Udham Singh

In like manner Gandhi made no serious attempt to prevent the execution on 1 April 1940 of Udham Singh. He was formally charged with the murder of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. When produced before the Magistrate, he said ‘I did the deed because Sir Michael O’Dwyer wanted to crush all our aspirations for freedom. I had been after him for full 21 years. I am happy that I have fulfilled my job. I am not afraid of death’.

Udham Singh was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London. At that time, many, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, condemned the action of Udham as senseless, but he is now acknowledged as a great national hero.

Gandhi opposed all violence, but especially that of the oppressed – he was totally opposed to Bolshevism on this count. He had no concept of a global division of labour or the necessity for an integrated world economy to produce for human need, it was India and Hinduism first and the rest nowhere. He explicitly supported capitalism (in a humane form, of course!) and opposed strikes, which should, he thought, be illegal once the capitalist had agreed to arbitration. This assumed both the possibility of non-biased arbitrators and the permanence of capitalism as the optimum society. As a Hindu nationalist he supported the caste system, opposed inter-eating and inter-marrying with other religions, and, whilst opposing discrimination against the Untouchables (Dalits) did not seek to abolish their status as scavengers and removers of “night soil” (excreta). His philosophical and religious outlook underpinned this impressive series of prejudices.


NewWaveA useful Indian Trotskyist website

the new wave that would turn into a tide!




One thought on “Ghandi, Marx and the meaning of socialism

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