This excerpt reproduces chapter ten from Mark Hager’s recently-published book, ‘Elusive Ideology: Religion and Socialism in modern Indian thought.’ Previous excerpts have appeared in Echelon and Economynext since august 2022. Readers can find the book through Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Barefoot Cafe, Expographic books and Sarasavi bookshop(s).
Idea-hungry and firm in integrity, Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979) (J.P.) was born to a lower middle-class family in Sitabdiara village, located now in Uttar Pradesh. He left Patna College in 1921 without receiving his science degree in order to participate in Gandhi’s anti-British Non-cooperation campaign. He soon resumed his education, however, studying at several American state universities before securing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology in 1929.
Forsaking a possible academic career in India, J.P. became active in the Congress. He assumed the role of Acting General Secretary when its top leaders were arrested in 1932 during a civil disobedience campaign. J.P. was himself imprisoned later that year. After his release, he helped launch the Congress Socialist Party in 1934. He served as General Secretary of that organization for many years. In 1940, J.P. landed in jail for delivering a speech advocating non-cooperation with the British war effort. He escaped from prison in 1942 and pursued underground anti-British activities for nearly a year before being captured, jailed again, and subjected to torture and solitary confinement. He gained release in 1946.
In 1954, J.P. shocked India’s socialist movement, announcing his departure from the Praja Socialist Party to devote himself full time to bhoodan (landgift), Vinoba Bhave’s rural campaign aimed at persuading large landholders to donate tracts to land-poor peasants. He retained his stature as an admired public spokesman, and in the 1970s gradually returned to a more militant stance on economic and political change. He turned his energies toward organizing non-violent popular actions to provoke economic transformation and to check retardation of democratic institutions under the rule of Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress.
In 1974, J.P. assumed leadership of a popular dissent movement in Bihar, which he hoped might extend itself into a pan Indian movement for non-violent revolution. Criticism of Mrs. Gandhi’s regime mounted up, eventually provoking her 1975 Emergency decree, resulting in censorship and the detention of opposition leaders, including J.P. His failing health impelled J.P.’s release from jail in late 1975. His poor health did not prevent him from playing a critical role in the 1977 consolidation of the Janata Party to contest general elections called by Mrs. Gandhi in false confidence she would win. Though J.P.’s preeminent stature made him a natural choice for official leadership of the Janata, he declined that role and declined also to serve as Prime Minister after the Janata’s election victory. J.P. died as the Janata coalition, stitched together from opposition fragments ranging from communists to Hindu chauvinist parties, began to unravel, paving the way for Mrs. Gandhi’s return to power.
J.P. is perhaps modern India’s most accomplished, comprehensive and representative social thinker. His thought is the best synthesis of major themes in modern Indian thought, culminating the tradition launched by Vivekananda and carried in various directions by thinkers explored above.
J.P. begins his career as straightforward Marxist. There is “only one theory of socialism—Marxism,” he writes in his 1936 publication, Why Socialism? J.P. portrays socialism as a doctrine of social and economic reorganization, abolishing private ownership of productive property in favor of social ownership. There is nothing “religious” about socialism: “It is not a code of personal conduct; it is not something which you and I can practice.” Socialism will create a society of material abundance where people will find no strain in practicing virtue.
(L)et us consider the nature of the society they would be living in. There would be full security of life and work: provision for old age, sickness, child birth, etc… In a society like this, what motive could the individual have to hoard things? He would get what he needed, whenever he wanted.
J.P. scorns pure religious ideology in favor of materialist socialism. Progress lies not through reform of humanity’s “so-called spirit,” which can affect only stray individuals, but through change in the “social environment,” which requires chiefly the revolutionary capture of state power to eradicate exploitative economic structures.
J.P. mounts specific attacks against both Gandhism and Bhagavan Das. He hits hard at the Gandhian doctrine of trusteeship, that “bog of timid economic analysis, good intentions and ineffective moralizing.” Trusteeship by the wealthy for the poor is only superficially non-violent, according to J.P., because it ignores the violence and exploitation through which the wealthy have acquired their riches. Gandhism does not press for abolition of wealth inequality because “the existence of paupers is essential for the working out of Gandhism ethics,” which is, he suggests, that rich people get to practice “deeds of high-minded philanthropy and thus prove the Hindu conception of human nature!” The Gandhian “change-of-heart” philosophy cannot sustain social improvement if carried on in the face of an economic system imbued with exploitative norms.
J.P. also rebukes Das’s Manu-ite socialism. He accuses Das of miscasting Marxist “materialism” as an ideology incompatible with self-sacrifice. He explains that according to Das, self-sacrifice can emerge only from a “mystical” or religious viewpoint. He insists that Marxist materialism allows the possibility of self-sacrificial action, but merely attributes it to social environments.
J.P. gives Das credit for at least the intention of transcending pure religious ideology: that is, to work out a practical scheme of social organization that embodies moral values. But he sees no way to implement Manu’s four-varna order in contemporary society, and strongly suggests that it could not in any case resolve problems of economic exploitation. In the end, as he points out, the Manu-ite scheme for socialism depends not on an economic organization intrinsically antagonistic to exploitation but rather on a moral atmosphere that Das hopes will radiate from a spiritual elite. J.P. places no faith in this vision, which is of course a version of pure religious ideology. Like Gandhism, the Manu-ite scheme depends finally on “persuasion.”
Within four years of penning Why Socialism?, J.P.’s socialist thought begins to shift. In 1940, J.P. writes critically of the “Marxist” viewpoint that socialization of economic life will “automatically” create “socialist morality.” He argues that “planned progress” in moral character-building is needed for national well-being and that economic restructuring cannot be stable without it. He comments positively on the detailed planning of moral life attributed by Das to Manu and suggests that socialists cultivate a kind of planned spiritual development, replete with defined moral standards. Despite evident changes from his 1936 position, J.P. in 1940 still stations himself substantially apart both from explicit religion and from Gandhi. He sees promotion of socialist morality as primarily a “secular” effort and rejects Gandhi’s doctrine that “moral purposes” must never be pursued through “immoral means.”
During the course of the 1940s, J.P. continues to modify his socialism and articulates the germs of many themes that he will carry forward through his career. On the economic front, he envisions a variety of new arrangements, which can be summarized briefly. There is, first, agrarian reform aimed at organizing villages as self-governing co-operatives, with farm-linked industry to absorb surplus labor. There is, second, an industrial economy mixing state-owned large enterprise with small-scale worker-owned and municipality-owned enterprise. J.P. stresses small-scale enterprise both for maximizing employment and for avoiding monopoly economic power in the hands of the state.
J.P. favors democratic over violent means to capture state power for socialism. Peaceful means, he argues, lead to “democratic socialism,” while “violent revolution” leads to the “bureaucratic state.” Though he favors peaceful revolution, he maintains that ruling class repression may be so severe as to justify violent overthrow and subsequent dictatorship by the previously exploited.
Through this period, J.P. continues to develop his theme of socialist moral virtue: “strict adherence to certain human values and standards of conduct.” He now embraces, in contrast to earlier views, the Gandhian dictum that “means are ends” and that “nothing but good means” can bring socialism to pass. He argues that virtuous persons become so “by training” and that socialist work must include moral tutelage as well as pursuit of power. In fact, he repudiates his view as voiced in 1936 that capture of state power must predominate in socialist transformation. He begins to call for “spiritual regeneration,” though he continues to deny any personal religious orientation:
I have no knowledge of matters spiritual, if the term is understood in a religious or metaphysical sense. I have not suddenly come to acquire faith in something called the spirit or the soul of Brahma. Such philosophy as I have is earthy and human.
In short, J.P. develops through the 1940s a deepening interest in cultivating socialist virtue, meanwhile growing sympathetic to socialist agendas other than state capture, especially if such capture entails violence and centralized administration. His respect for Gandhi grows.
In the early 1950s, J.P. navigates what can best be called a religious crisis, dramatized by a three-week fast at Poona in 1952. The result as he explains it is that he comes to reject “materialism as a philosophical out-look.” He gravitates toward an increasingly religious cast of mind, with religious imagery appearing more and more heavily in his writing. In the aftermath of this moment, his enthusiasm for Gandhi rises dramatically and he enlists in the famous bhoodan or land-gift campaign led by the Gandhian disciple, Vinoba Bhave.
The religious question preoccupying J.P. at this stage is: what motivates or provides incentive to human virtue? In past history, as he argues, such incentive came from “religion” or belief in some “higher moral force.” In modern days, however, religion dissipates, leaving only “materialism” as an outlook on life. This troubles him. In contrast with his 1936 view, J.P. now finds Marxist “materialism” inconsistent with human virtue.
For many years I have worshipped at the shrine of the goddess—Dialectical Materialism—which seemed to me intellectually more satisfying than any other philosophy. But while the main quest of philosophy remains unsatisfied, it has become patent to me that materialism of any sort robs man of the means to become truly human. In a material civilization man has no rational incentive to be good.
J.P. writes that humanity must go “beyond the material” to find the “incentives to goodness” needed for social reconstruction.
Materialism confines human vision of enjoyment and success. J.P. insists that an alternative must be found but does not seek it in any particular school of religion or moral doctrine. Instead, his rejection of materialism leads to what could be called existential openness to transcendence, an “endeavor to realize” one’s “true nature.” This openness, not any particular religious system, strikes him as key to spiritual growth.
Spiritual endeavor leads in its “natural course” to the “good and the true,” to “certain basic values which are absolute and eternal. ” J.P. sometimes associates moral growth with cultivation of something like the Advaitic insight as interpreted by Vivekananda and Aurobindo:
It is only in the ultimate spiritual experience that this dualism is shed and the seer and seen become one. The root of morality lies in the endeavor of man to realize this unity of existence or, to put it differently, to realize his self. For one who has experienced this unity, the practice of morality becomes as natural and effortless as the drawing of breath.
By and by, as J.P.’s religious orientation deepens, he increasingly portrays socialism itself as something inseparable from religious attitude. In 1959, for example, he proclaims:
Socialism for me was always a way of life. It represented a set of values to which we owed allegiance voluntarily and which we tried to put into practice in our lives. These values we didn’t see developing anywhere as a result of merely institutional changes, whether economic or political.
Striking here is J.P.’s insistence that he has “always” conceptualized socialism as a “way of life” and “set of values” to be “put into practice in our lives.” He does not even recall his 1936 position in Why Socialism? explicitly rejecting notions of socialism as a way of life and affirming that “institutional changes” in economics and politics suffice to usher in a worthwhile socialist order.
Design For Community
Before focusing on the bhoodan and “total revolution” phases in J.P.’s, career, it is worthwhile to explore two works—A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity and Swaraj for the People—penned by J.P. in the late 1950s and early 60s. These offerings merit close inspection for two reasons. First, they represent culmination of J.P.’s reflections on how to structure a humane socialist society. Second, within the wider context of modern Indian thought, they represent the single most unified and systematic statement of Gandhian socialism’s principles and goals. If Gandhian socialism is modern India’s quintessential idiom in political thought, these two works embody a crystallization of modern Indian social vision.
A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity opens with reflections on democracy. J.P. finds deficiencies in indirect or representative democracy, “the ability of a people to choose and dismiss a government.” This form of democracy is wan and incomplete in his evaluation, eliciting disparagements like “elected oligarchy” and “democratic oligarchy.” In characterizing parliamentary democracy as incomplete, J.P.’s point is not to repudiate it as inherently counter-progressive or to confine it under party rule as in state socialist systems. He means rather to counteract the oligarchic character of representative democracy by embedding it in a structure where crucial social decisions emerge in more direct democratic fashion.
What representative democracy lacks is widespread existential contact with rich feelings of self-mastery, responsibility, solidarity and active power over social decisions. This “glow and satisfaction of self government” is a spiritual experience that J.P. places at the heart of democratic values. Fostering that spiritual experience guides design of what J.P. calls “participating democracy.”
Creating such a democracy, he argues, is not mainly a problem of governmental systems. It is instead a “moral” problem and perhaps a religious one, that of fostering particular “spiritual qualities” necessary to democracy. J.P. offers a list of these virtues, including non-violence, love of liberty, courage against tyranny and oppression, tolerance, belief in equality, cooperative spirit, and willingness to sacrifice private interest for general well-being.
J.P. makes several points about this cluster of virtues. First, they are not innate, but emerge only through painstaking education and practice. Second, the needful tutelary process looms far too large, challenging and crucial for simple entrustment to the state. The entire social fabric must be such that it “inculcates these values in its members.” Institutions of various sorts must work together to reinforce “the necessary moral climate for democracy to thrive.” Third, the whole cluster of democratic virtues sits menaced by one monumental vice: material greed. As an antidote to greed, democracy requires the practice of one pivotal virtue: “voluntary limitation of wants.” Without this, none of the other democratic virtues can flourish. As J.P. explains it, material greed fosters intractable social conflicts impervious to democratic resolution. It also gives rise to productive systems of excessive size and complexity, inimical to democratic control and oversight. The inevitable result is “bureaucratic oligarchy.”
Both capitalism and certain forms of socialism contradict true democracy because they fuel materialist greed and thus subvert democratic virtue. A further problem is that typical socialist organizational forms—”the centralized State” and “large-scale industrialization”—specifically defy participatory democracy. Though J.P. rebukes prevailing socialist formations, his vision of democratic society remains crucially socialist.
J.P. finds two organizational forms essential to democratic life. These 7 forms, “voluntary associations” and “self-governing communities,” are both instruments of popular participation and influence. J.P. seems to have picked up some Tocqueville.
In “self-governing communities,” J.P. suggests, social life can be “deliberately organized for self-government,” deliberately designed, that is, to foster democratic experience and virtues. “Voluntary associations” cannot be so designed, but come as caboose behind the engine of “self-governing communities.” J.P. believes that a society’s democratic tenor resides in the quantity and quality of its voluntary associational activity. Structural design can at best encourage such independent associational action. J.P. imagines his “self-governing communities” as maximally compatible with free associational activity. J.P.’s “self-governing com-munities” are themselves a species of voluntary association in that political life within them is an exercise in social creativity. They are creativity by design.
A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity and Swaraj for the People primarily seek to outline a social system conducive to self-governing communities. Many elements are familiar from discussions of thinkers above and need not be belabored here in detail. The chief value of these two works lies in their synthesized and unified presentation of themes expounded by others less cohesively.
Like others, J.P. begins by hearkening back to antecedents. He draws explicitly on Aurobindo’s discussion of “organs of popular democracy” in ancient India. India’s ancient republics, so prominent a theme in Aurobindo, likewise suggest to J.P. that “India was perhaps the earliest home of democracy.” J.P. quotes extensively from Aurobindo, emphasizing that the essence of Indian social organization was “the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,” seeking “not so much an individual as a communal freedom.” This principle, embodied prominently in the republics, was later preserved in the “territorial community” of the “self-governing village” and in “the functional or occupational community, the varna.”
Like others, J.P. argues that both territorial communities—self-governing villages—and functional communities the varna system—have gone into decline since days of old. He blames British imperialism for the eclipse of village communities. Without great detail, he suggests that Britain followed a “deliberate policy” of undermining self-governing villages that might otherwise have sapped British hegemony. On the eclipse of varna as occupational communities, he supplies no analysis, commenting simply that the system “has been so depraved and distorted that there would be few defenders of it now.”
Though rare in his early career, explicit religious imagery characterizes J.P.’s thought after his crisis in the early fifties. J.P. wields a traditional religious notion, decline of dharma, to summarize ills brought by dissolution of self-governing villages and by varna system decadence. By dharma, J.P. means “social ethics,” internalized notions of upright action, integrity and responsibility that Rousseau and Tocqueville call “mores.”
The vitality of dharma, J.P. suggests, depends upon the degree to which a society manifests “organic self-regulation,” organization “on the basis of self-determining and mutually coordinating and integrating communities.” But if dharma depends on “organic self-regulation” in social arrangements, the reverse is also true. Such organic self-regulation can be achieved only to the degree that dharma already flourishes. “The ancient concept of dharma has to be revived and the appropriate dharma for a democracy has to be evolved,” J.P. writes. There can be no substitute for deliberate cultivation of democratic virtue. It is equally true that democratic dharma cannot grow or be practiced in a vacuum. Its flourishing depends reciprocally on construction and maintenance of self-governing communities. Organic self-regulation and dharma reinforce each other positively, as does their absence negatively.
The democratic Indian society J.P. envisions takes the reconstructed village as its chief institution. “The foundation of this polity,” as he writes, lies in “self-governing, self-sufficient, agro-industrial, urbo-rural, local communities,” based largely on “reconstruction” of existing villages. This orientation owes a great deal to Gandhi, of course. J.P.’s particular contribution lies in thinking through certain aspects of the vision with special articulateness.
J.P. pays particular attention to issues of economic organization. Of decisive importance is his insistence on “economic decentralization,” which requires that the village be economically “self-sufficient” to a maximum possible degree. It should be able to produce within itself the “necessaries of life” such as food, clothing, shelter, and so on, while also ensuring that each resident finds “useful employment.” Local self-sufficiencies will maximize the experience of participatory democratic control over affairs.
J.P. remains Marxist enough to see that self-government is chimerical unless it includes mastery over economic decisions that fundamentally shape social conditions and possibilities. Self-government therefore excludes strong reliance on markets or on large techno-bureaucratic organization private or public for economic decision-making. Such mechanisms are neither transparent nor responsive to popular will. They therefore defy the life of deliberative participation, while subjecting local communities to distant and possibly destructive forces. These considerations convince J.P. that for primary needs at least the village economy should be one of local production for local consumption.
J.P. goes on to delineate certain fundamental features of a democratic and self-sufficient village economy. Like Gandhi and Lohia, he emphasizes developing new and appropriate technologies utilizing small-scale machinery and labor-intensivity so as to avoid unemployment. He also stresses maximum reliance on local resources human and material, preserving manageable local scope for planning and coordination. Technological research and resource surveys would support small-scale machinery and local resource mobilization. Though wary of detailed central planning as in party-state socialism, J.P allows for higher-level planning on matters beyond local self-sufficiency. PAs to natural resources, J.P. stresses two features. One is common ownership and allocation by democratic processes to their various uses. Another is reliance on renewable resources, so as to conserve non-renewables.
Democratic virtue in limitation of wants would constrain consumption demands and facilitate sustainability through renewables.
In what J.P, calls the “agro-industrial community,” light industry would engage in immediate processing of agrarian products and manufacture of consumer and producer goods for direct local use. Such agro-industrial development coincides with local self-sufficiency and planning without undue dependence on markets or central hierarchies.
Social ownership of productive wealth is crucial. In villages, land-holdings must be redistributed “so that each person in the village becomes an equal share-holder in the landed wealth of the village.” Beyond this, social ownership of productive enterprise could appear in various guises and be articulated at various levels. In village communities, J.P. seems to imagine two sorts of social ownership: 1) enterprises owned by the whole community and governed by boards representing both enterprise workers and the community at large; and 2) enterprises owned and governed by their workers within regulatory frameworks established in their communities. Both forms promote participatory democratic decision-making and experiences of collaborative solidarity. J.P. allows for some privately owned enterprise employing wage labor. A village economy with worker-owned and privately-owned firms would seem to require some sphere of market relations. J.P. sidesteps investigating how such market relations could fit within the overall planned scheme.
J.P. recognizes aspects of economic life beyond the scope of village self-sufficiency large-scale irrigation, power supply, and manufacture of production goods among them. Economic coordination for such matters requires administrative organs at remove from village life. J.P. offers several observations on ownership and management of higher-level enterprise. His remarks are suggestive but unclear as to how his proposals fit together.
Large-scale enterprise might be either privately or socially owned. Once again, J.P. sidesteps questions on what lay of markets, ownership, regulation and planning would prevail in trans-village production, distribution and exchange. He seems to imagine large private enterprise as a minor portion so that few would work as non-owning wage labor. He calls for worker representation in governing large-scale enterprise private or public.
A Plea for the Reconstruction of Indian Polity musters surprisingly kind words for Das,46 much in contrast to J.P’s early-career dismissal. J.P. revives Das’s attempt to connect notions of varnadharma with ideas from guild socialism. He suggests that various productive functions and occupations be organized into political bodies, each engaged in substantial self-regulation of internal affairs and represented within government. “These Associations and Councils would be the modern varna organizations and their rules the modern varnadharma,” he writes.
His conception of a “modern varnadharma,” combined with village-centered democracy, yields a picture of integrated occupational/ functional and territorial democracy reminiscent of ancient India as J.P. portrays it. Fortunately, J.P. does not follow Das’s lead in taking ancient Manuite varnadharma as a specific blueprint. It remains unclear how he would integrate his village/territorial democracy with his occupational/ functional one and territorial democracy reminiscent of ancient India as J.P. portrays it. Fortunately, J.P. does not follow Das’s lead in taking ancient Manuite varnadharma as a specific blueprint. It remains unclear how he would integrate his village/territorial democracy with his occupational/ functional one.
Though J.P. attends to tasks of trying to articulate institutional structures for socialism, he insists socialism cannot be founded upon subjecting mere institutional transformation, what he calls “social engineering.” He explicitly rejects “state socialism” for its institutionalist bias, which I call “materialist ideology.” “The old faith that state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange plus planning will bring about socialism has been falsified,” he observes.
On the contrary, socialism’s crucial and most difficult challenge is the same as democracy’s: cultivating an appropriate spiritual climate, without which it cannot sustain itself. J.P. calls this the “spirit of com-munity.” As he explains in a 1961 speech, such spirit requires that the rich in every village practice a “sense of responsibility” for the “uplift of the weak and backward.” This sounds like tip-toeing toward Gandhi’s trusteeship. Even as he stresses socialism’s spiritual aspect, however, he remains Marxist enough to avoid pure religious ideology. Socialism poses specifically spiritual challenges, but “[t] he task also is one of social engineering,” he maintains. Specifically, he stresses that the spirit of community cannot thrive in the face of excessive economic disparity. As he puts it: “How can there be such a spirit when the village is so divided into hostile economic classes…one trying to live off the other?” As indicated, he insists that no village community can flourish without equitable land redistribution. Spiritual and economic transformation require each other.
Methods of Transformation
After the late 1950s and early 60s when J.P. pens A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity and Swaraj for the People, his picture of a democratic social structure remains essentially unchanged. The two works condense and restate certain key themes in Gandhian socialism. J.P.’s thought does not rest, however, with articulation of what Gandhian socialism, once attained, would look like. In his last quarter-century, J.P. works through twists in conceptualizing transformative methodology: how to bring Gandhian socialism into being.
Land reform, redistribution from landlords to poor peasants, is widely seen as key to successful Third World development. It may be blocked by elite domination of high-level government and of localities. One Asian example of ambitious land reform came in China during early years of communist rule. Carried out by a revolutionary party and government along with mobilized peasants, it spawned terrific violence, killing perhaps hundreds of thousands.”
Less violently, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have implemented substantial land reform in recent decades. Despite legislation and off-stated intentions, independent India has achieved only minimal land reform, except notably in West Bengal and Kerala with their communist-centered elected governments. This is not the place to rehearse vicissitudes in Indian land reform efforts. Suffice it to say that the Indian state has proved largely ineffectual and that this was foreseen by sensitive observers from a very early post-Independence stage.
In the early 1950s, a distinctive Indian land reform movement arose, called bhoodan (land-gift). Led by the Gandhian disciple Vinoba Bhave, bhoodan asked wealthy land-owners to donate holdings to land-poor neighbors. Vinoba’s movement organized volunteers to tramp the country seeking land gift pledges. Estimates have it that during the 50s, pledges for nearly a million acres came in.
J.P. threw himself fervently into bhoodan. He characterizes it as a revolutionary method avoiding both violence and ineffectual “parliamentary action.” Bhoodan is Gandhian revolution by non-violent mass action. J.P. comes to view bhoodan as the main vehicle not only for land reform, but also for what Gandhi had called “constructive work” in village transformation: introduction of new institutions, attitudes, techniques and productive arrangements. He sees the bhoodan movement as spearhead of “Lok Sevak Sangh,” the mass organization for rural transformation Gandhi had envisioned as future for the Congress.
During this period, J.P. scorns socialist efforts to win and hold state power through party politics. Even a democratic and nominally socialist state, he maintains, remains a “Leviathan” of centralized power, inconsistent with true democracy. Preoccupation with state politics is therefore self-defeating for socialism. Socialists should focus on what J.P, following Vinoba, calls lokniti (politics of the people) not rajniti (politics of the state). As J.P. summarizes:
[T]he remedy is to create and develop forms of socialist living through the voluntary endeavor of the people, rather than seek to establish socialism by the use of the power of the State. In other words, the remedy is to establish people’s socialism rather than State socialism.
Borrowing Marxist phrasing, J.P. explains that emphasis on lokniti will yield a “real withering away of the State,” without awaiting some distant day when the revolutionary state shall have constructed conditions for its own dissolution.
J.P.’s enthusiasm for bhoodan coincides with his turn toward increasingly religious sensibilities after his 1952 epiphany. He interprets bhoodan from a distinctly religious standpoint. He portrays Vinoba as a sannyassin in the tradition of Indian renouncers. In a description echoing Vivekananda’s ruminations on sannyassins of service, he explains that Vinoba acts in pursuit of “spiritual ends,” not for any “social, economic, or political” ends. He reveres Vinoba as “a rishi,” “a seer,” “a man of God.” Like its leader, bhoodan is religious to its core in J.P.’s view. The religious component J.P. sees is bhoodan’s pursuit of spiritual transformation. As he writes, “Bhoodan is essentially a moral movement, or a movement to solve socio-economic problems by moral means and thereby to bring about the moral transfiguration of man.”
J.P. adopts Gandhi’s term sarvodaya to name the philosophy of life and change into which bhoodan fits. Sarvodaya’s philosophy of change, as he explains it, is grounded in religious transformation, based on “the principle of change of heart.” He invokes Advaitic theology to explain how religious transformation in social relations may be possible. “That is so, because all of us are essentially one, fragments of the same Al-mighty Father,” he explains. Like Vivekananda and Aurobindo, J.P. posits Advaitic insight as cognitive foundation for social ethics:
Why should we want the good of all?… The philosophical answer is that this difference which we experience today is only an appearance, and an unreality. In reality all of us are one… My real “I” and your real “I” are the same… My good is your good, and your good is mine…
Premised on moral conversion of landholders, bhoodan manifests the outlook behind Gandhi’s notion of trusteeship. Indeed, during this period and occasionally through the rest of his life, J.P. comments favorably on trusteeship, in contrast with his scathing 1936 denunciation. In rejecting the materialist ideology of state socialism, does J.P. fall prey to pure religious ideology, positing moral/ religious conversion as a sufficient transformative methodology?
J.P.’s scattered favorable references to trusteeship should not be overstated. J.P. never elaborates in detail on trusteeship and certainly does not stress it as a major component of his vision. His favorable references to trusteeship probably signify genuflection to Gandhi, expressing pious hope that private wealth-owners might come to act more charitably.
In one sense, bhoodan partakes less than does trusteeship in pure religious ideology. Unlike trusteeship, bhoodan is materialist enough at least to insist that alleviating deprivation requires actual wealth re-distribution. Redistribution depends, however, on moral conversion. It seems doubtful that virtue could ever be summoned enough to accomplish meaningful redistribution this way. In his early infatuation with bhoodan, J.P. sometimes seems to ensnare himself in pure religious ideology. As times goes by, however, he begins to recognize this and his posture toward bhoodan grows increasingly critical.
Most problematic in Vinoba’s bhoodan is rejection of satyagraha in seeking land redistribution. Satyagraha—in the form of strikes by land-less workers, symbolic non-violent confrontations or otherwise—could possibly have been deployed in support of bhoodan. Though Vinoba applied the label satyagraha to bhoodan, he made clear his rejection of techniques that might entail “coercion.” He went so far as to characterize certain Gandhian campaigns as “negative” satyagraha, in contrast to “constructive” satyagraha as embodied in bhoodan.
In rejecting confrontational applications of satyagraha, Vinoba’s movement seemingly became a false heir to the Gandhian legacy. To be sure, limbo’s squeamishness about “coercion”— his desire to proceed exelusively on the basis of conversion follows Gandhi’s own somewhat muddled discussions of satyagraha. Fortunately, Gandhi’s deeds in satyagraha were not unduly hampered by his tendency to confuse non-violence with non-coercion. Moreover, as Chapter 5 indicates, Gandhi moved in his late career toward conceptualizing oppressive economic structures as embodiments of violence against which satyagraha must be directed in the name of ahimsa.
Meanwhile, Gandhi’s reconceptualization of trusteeship as a legal institution, not just a moral injunction, also revealed his in-creasing distance from pure religious ideology. These trends in Gandhi’s thought, combined with Gandhi’s actual deeds, suggest that the true Gandhian philosophy is more “militant” than what Vinoba espoused. A truer and more militant Gandhian approach is what J.P. ultimately embraces.
Within a few years after its inception, bhoodan began revealing it-self as a failure. The quantum of arable land permanently redistributed was small despite the impressive momentum of early pledges. Much pledged land was never actually transferred or was taken back forcibly or with aid of law when donors or their families developed second thoughts. Land permanently transferred was often poor-quality or in plots too small to provide an adequate living.
J.P. finds himself vexed by bhoodan’s failure because he deeply doubts whether the Indian state apparatus can carry through serious land reform. With the deficiencies of both bhoodan and land reform legislation before him, he takes the position that the two efforts must be pursued in tandem. He wavers on which effort should get priority. At some points he gives primacy to bhoodan because legislative effort has achieved little success. Bhoodan could maybe help create a transformed spiritual atmosphere where land reform becomes enforceable and sustainable in local settings. At other moments he admits that bhoodan has achieved only negligible redistribution and suggests legislation may be more efficacious. In that case, bhoodan becomes valuable mainly for its spiritual atmospherics, which J.P. hopes will encourage religious “change of heart” in village relations.
Even in the period of his greatest infatuation, J.P. worries that bhoodan by itself might take too long in accomplishing land reform. He fears that violent methods might inevitably come to the fore should bhoodan not quickly succeed! Meanwhile, J.P. comes under fire from socialist comrades, notably Lohia, for pursuing bhoodan efforts doomed to failure. Though he resists these criticisms at the time, J.P. later concedes their central thrust: that bhoodan must fail due to shortfall of “struggle”—active confrontation between the land-poor and landlords.
As time goes by, J.P. grows increasingly critical of bhoodan and the philosophy of change behind it. He disparages it as “ineffectual” and consigns it to the “limbo of history,” concluding it can “never get off the ground.” Its focus on “spiritual and moral appeals” retards systemic change which can only emerge through “struggle.”
As J.P. distances himself from Vinoba, his move is toward confrontational satyagraha. Where he had once seen bhoodan as the middle-way alternative to both violent revolution and parliamentary democracy, he now assigns that place to confrontational satyagraha. He begins to contemplate large-scale and widespread satyagraha applied for various purposes.
J.P. begins to criticize Vinoba’s overly “gentle” approach as an erroneous construal of Gandhi. Even more striking, he begins to view non-violence as a more relative, less absolute, value in revolutionary morality. He claims that his opposition to violent revolution is not based on “moral grounds” but merely on “practical considerations.” Though that overstates his true position, J.P. wants to remove himself in no uncertain terms from the pure religious ideology that nearly over-took him. He writes:
My Sarvodaya friends and my Gandhian friends will be surprised to read what I publicly say now. I say with a due sense of responsibility that if convinced that there is no deliverance for the people except through violence, Jayaprakash Narayan will also take to violence.”
As J.P. puts bhoodan behind him, he begins to advocate an ideology of change he calls “total revolution.” Total revolution embodies certain distinct ideas, but it also can be used to refer to the general drift of J.P.’s thoughts in his last decade. It takes shape against a background of political events—the Bihar Movement, Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency involving J.P.’s imprisonment, the consolidation and election of the Janata Party—in which J.P. played pivotal roles.
J.P.’s most distinct idea in total revolution is that social transformation be analyzed in terms of action within various “spheres” of society. J.P. does not concern himself with defining these spheres precisely. Typical statements identify six or seven spheres, some of which go under different names at different times. In one version, for example, he identifies the “social, economic, political, cultural, educational and moral” spheres.” In another version, he repeats the first five but does not mention the “moral” sphere, instead mentioning two spheres—the “ideological or intellectual” and the “spiritual” not included on the other list. we should take J.P.’s word that these variations are insignificant in and of themselves.”
J.R’s point is that achieving a decent society requires revolution in each of the various spheres. He calls attention in Marx-like fashion to issues of harmony and contradiction among spheres. Social stability and social change are explicable in terms of these relationships. He does not follow Marxism in singling out the economic sphere as determining the rest. He seems to think such econocentrism detrimental to balanced transformative thought and practice. At the same time, he avoids the opposite error: downplaying the importance of economic transformation.
Though he articulates these multiple spheres for revolutionary action does not systematically explain particular actions he envisions for each sphere. His most detailed coin in is focus on the “moral-spiritual” sphere and the “economic” sphere. In fact, J.P.’s “total revolution” seems mainly an update on the “dual revolution”—spiritual and economic/structural— he had conceptualized years earlier, praising Gandhi as its key exponent and practitioner. There is nothing especially new in J.P.’s position on the key interdependent spiritual and economic components of “total revolution.” The spiritual component emphasizes a “moral” orientation toward “voluntary limitation” on “consumption” and “material development.” The economic component stresses an “appropriate technology” of “small industry” and “rural industry.” It emphasizes various forms of “social ownership”—including village ownership, worker and cooperative ownership, and public company ownership—while also including “self-employed producer” ownership, small-scale capitalist ownership employing small numbers of wage workers, and a small number of larger capitalist enterprises, closely regulated. The economic component also entails worker participation in management. This adds some detail to what he had earlier sketched in A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity and Swaraj for the People. It also leaves the same knotty issues unresolved.
To grasp the specific character of J.P.’s “total revolution” outlook, one needs to look not at J.P.’s specific explications but at J.P.’s emerging positions on several related matters. First, as mentioned, comes increasing advocacy of militant satyagraha. J.P. calls for large-scale and wide-spread satyagraha action against a range of deleterious institutions and practices. Like Gandhi, he sees satyagraha yielding both structural transformation and spiritual development.” Like Gandhi also, he continues to see village reconstruction work, sarvodaya, as satyagraha’s twin component in transformative effort.
Meanwhile, renewed emphasis on transformative use of state power characterizes J.P.’s total revolution phase. In his bhoodan period, as indicated, J.P. had portrayed fixation on state power as positively detrimental to socialism’s best possibilities. Socialist efforts, as he argued then, should focus away from rajniti, state politics, and toward lokniti, mobilizing the downtrodden for direct construction of new arrangements. By the last decade of his career, he reconsiders the degree of this anti-statist emphasis. The reign of Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress has impressed him with ways in which the state, even if nominally socialist, can frustrate popular mobilization and construction, repress them or deflate them through pseudo-socialist reform. Mrs. Gandhi’s supression of J.P.’s “Bihar movement,” her anti-democratic emergency regime and her nationalization efforts offer key lessons. J.P. never abandons his insistence on popular organization efforts. He does, however, revive his pre-bhoodan stance that popular efforts will bear fruit slowly unless linked to a popular political party organized to capture and wield state power in support of grass-roots action. Diverse state initiatives suggest themselves, including support for unions, especially agrarian ones, marketing assistance, cooperative rural credit unions, irrigation aid, soil conservation, land reclamation and so on.
Hence, J.P. plays a critical role in organizing the Janata Party to contest the 1977 election against Mrs. Gandhi. The official Janata “creed,” as he explains it, is “Gandhian socialism.” He envisions the Janata drawn into an increasingly close mutually transformative relation-ship with popular organizations, much the same relationship Gandhi and sometimes Nehru had once envisioned as future of the Congress.
As J.P. turns his attention this way, two themes receive special stress. Both concern things he feels the state should not prioritize. First, he warns against over-emphasizing nationalization of capitalist enterprise. Nationalization should not be confused with genuine socialism. It tends to produce little more than state bureaucracy, which he goes so far as to call “state capitalism.” He comments: “There is no element or trait of socialism in all this… It is a pity that our socialists very largely equate socialism with nationalization.” True socialism requires “economic democracy” or “industrial democracy,” J.P.’s conceptions of which are outlined above. Better the state should assist in constructing institutions compatible with “economic democracy” than pursue pseudo-socialism as in Mrs. Gandhi’s nationalization.” J.P.’s skepticism about the fanfare does not mean he opposes nationalization in principle.” He merely ranks it low in socialist priority. Meanwhile, he never wavers in supporting stronger land reform legislation.
Secondly, J.P. continues to stress that socialist spiritual transformation lies largely outside state competence. State action should focus on institutional change, leaving spiritual effort to popular organizations. Some-times he walks back close to a quasi-Marxist notion that institutional transformations must complete themselves, with spiritual change to follow. Elsewhere, however, he envisions spiritual revolution as spearhead of change.
In transition from bhoodan to total revolution, J.P. re-appropriates two notions critical to an adequate Gandhian socialist vision. One, confrontational satyagraha, he draws from Gandhi. The other, state action to help effectuate transformation, he draws from Marxism. Both notions depart from pure religious ideology by insisting on wielding power against injustice. Consistently, however, J.P. integrates these notions within an overall outlook stressing direct effort toward spiritual transformation.
During his bhoodan period, J.P. immerses himself in spiritual efforts, but his Marxist sensibilities ultimately judge bhoodan wanting as a philosophy of change. In the integrity of his quest for an appropriate trans-formative philosophy as well as in the soundness of his matured intuitions, J.P. reveals himself as India’s best Marxist and truest Gandhian.